Staffers and community partners are taking innovative steps and measures to attract mentors for students in Dallas Independent School District. The teams are finding social media becoming a beneficial tool to attract community members to volunteer at some campuses.
As students settled into their first classes at South Oak Cliff High School, a voice could be heard over the intercom system.
"At this time, teachers, if you could release all junior and senior male students to the main gym," an administrator directed.
Meanwhile, dozens of men were walking the hall from the library to the gymnasium. The men, from all walks of life, were community members who showed up to me mentors to about 200 teenage boys from the campus. The men were on a mission to prove mentorship matters.
"This is our SOC Male Leadership Program," the school’s community liaison said as he greeted the large group of students and volunteers.
Staff said part of grooming male leaders is showing them in order to play the part, they must look the part.
That is how hundreds of neckties and belts came in to play. The school is trying some out-of-the-box methods to tie young male students with potential mentors.
Douglas Grace is a program organizer.
“We want out young men to know, walking around with your pants hanging down, that's not what's up," Grace said. "If you are trying to make it in today's world, we want to let them know, you've got to dress to impress."
The Belt and Tie Affair is a mentoring initiative that is embracing a right of passage of sorts. Teens are building bonds with community volunteers through the act of learning to tie a necktie.
"Whoo!" Grace said. "I think we probably had about 15 out of 200 kids that know how to tie a tie."
It is a much needed moment that is breaking down barriers.
"I actually didn't know how to tie a tie,” senior student Kanion Williams said.
The mentoring event is opening doors to possibility, for students like Williams. He will soon be heading to Oklahoma State University on a full scholarship.
"It was actually a great experience,” Williams said. "For males to even come into this school, to even help us tie a tie, because most of us don't have a male figure in our life to even tie a tie."
Organizers said social media is becoming an innovative tool and a recruiting game changer, especially since finding mentors for older students can be challenging.
In December 2017, Dallas ISD’s Dade Middle School made national headlines after a large group of men showed up to a mentoring breakfast. Organizers used social media to ask for volunteers, hoping for 50 men to show up. Nearly 600 mentors signed up and attended the breakfast that morning.
Participants at the South oak Cliff breakfast say teaching a young male to tie a tie engages on a personal level. One teacher said most male interactions are done on the football field or basketball court.
"This is another way to get to them, by having that contact saying 'hey, we do care,'" Social Studies teacher Marques Cameron said. "We do care about how you look and how you think."
Organizers say ties are binding positive lessons in first impressions and student success.
As the mentorship breakfast wrapped up, some of the volunteers offered an incentive to the students. They introduced a reading challenge. The male student who reads the most books by a certain date could receive a custom suit for the prom and a photo session. The second-place reader will receive a $250 gift certificate. The third-place reader will receive a $150 gift certificate.