Hawkins BOE considering faith-based mentoring program for troubled students

Jeff Bobo • Nov 13, 2019 at 8:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Board of Education is expected to consider approval of a systemwide Christian-based student mentoring program next month that would recruit and train members of the community to meet with troubled children at school.

Steven Seaton was volunteering as a student mentor at Lawrence County’s Alternative School when he was recruited by the I Am For Kids program 13 years years ago to shift the organization’s focus from group mentoring to individual mentoring.

Seaton, who is now the organization’s CEO,  told the BOE Tuesday he grew up in a home filled with “abuse, neglect and abandonment” and as a result had a troubled youth. He needed attention, and connection, and he got the attention he needed by getting into trouble.

“A lot of kids, what they need is that connection, and that’s something the teachers can’t give because they want to teach their class,” Seaton said.

I Am For Kids recruits and trains community members to meet with a student once per week to share what they’ve learned about life and to encourage them. Seaton said the “faith community” plays a large role in that recruitment.

The school decides which children need a mentor, and the weekly meeting with a mentor takes place at the school in an open setting to prevent any possibility of “scandal.” Mentors must pass the same background check as any school employee or non-faculty coach, and then they are approved by the BOE before receiving mentoring training.

Seeton was introduced to the BOE Tuesday by attendance supervisor Greg Sturgill, who noted that the Hawkins County school system had about 1,000 chronically absent students last year. 

“Research shows one of the No. 1 ways to get students to come to school more often is building those relationships,” Sturgill told the BOE. “They have a loving and caring adult in the school they can reach out to and talk to and confide in. One way to provide those adults is through mentoring.”

Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Times News Wednesday I Am For Kids is a faith-based Christian company that operates based on ethical and moral standards.

“We are not advocating for a religious group to come into Hawkins and work with our students,” Hixson said. “We are, however, very interested in partnering with groups like I Am For Kids to proactively address the social, emotional, and behavioral issues we are facing each and every day in our classrooms. I Am For Kids has assured us there is no persuasion, proselytizing, or evangelism of any sort within their program or through mentors. In fact, it is the school board’s decision on who is approved as mentors.”

Hixson noted that if I Am for Kids, or any other organization, attempted to use student access inappropriately, the school system would end their partnership immediately.

“With that said, it is worth noting that many of the issues we see in our schools stem from a lack of morality,” Hixson said. “The moral foundations many of us were taught at home, in our churches, and from those who mentored us as kids simply are not there. Thus, we do see a need for mentors to come in and assist our school staff with teaching these standards of morality, civility, and general sense of right and wrong.”

Hixson added, “If approved, we hope I am For Kids, and other ventures we will undertake to combat such issues, will start to make a difference in our students’ behaviors and fill the needs we see and are experiencing in our schools.”

Aside from recruiting and training adult mentors to help older students, I Am For Kids also trains high school students to mentor elementary school children.

Seeton described I Am For Kids a nonprofit, faith-based organization whose motto is “Schools and community working together for student success.”

It would be funded through contributions from churches, civic organizations and clubs, businesses, and individual citizens.

“When I train mentors, I let them know, each child has two questions,” Seeton told the BOE. “Am I loved, and do I have value? If those questions are not being answered at home, then when they come to school they cannot focus on academics. They will not focus on academics. They will not think about future career choices. They can’t choose a career path. They’re not going to focus on morals, character. The whole community loses if we cannot answer those two questions. I know because I was one of those kids, and I received a mentor.”

BOE member Bob Larkins suggested that the board take a month to study the program and then put it back on the agenda for the Dec. 5 meeting.

Chairman Chris Christian noted, “You can never go wrong when you mentor a child, and we don’t have enough of them. This world is getting more vicious for our children every day.”