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Men urged to be role models
At Mt. Sinai Church
Jeff May Jr., a student mentor at Westside Elementary School in Roanoke, was the keynote speaker for this weekend's "Males' Conference" at Mt. Sinai Apostle Church of Christ in God in Martinsville. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)
Children need positive male influences, a Roanoke educator told about 40 people attending a local church conference on Saturday.
That is especially true for children whose fathers are not in their lives, said Jeff May Jr.
May, a student mentor at Westside Elementary School in Roanoke, was the keynote speaker for this weekend’s “Males’ Conference” at Mt. Sinai Apostle Church of Christ in God in Martinsville. The crowd there consisted of a roughly equal numbers of men and women.
May said his job is similar to that of a dean, an educator who counsels students and makes sure they follow school rules.
He encouraged men to volunteer in schools.
“Go into that front office and say, ‘What can I do today?’,” even if it is something as simple as reading a book to a child, he said.
If nothing else, eat lunch in the school cafeteria with students and talk with them, May said, emphasizing that schools usually allow that.
Westside Elementary has 802 students, mostly minorities from low-income families. Bishop J.C. Richardson Jr., pastor of Mt Sinai and a Martinsville School Board member, said it is much like the city’s Albert Harris Elementary School.
Westside has become one of Roanoke’s best performing schools academically, Richardson said, because “they do not accept excuses” that socioeconomic problems hinder a child’s ability to learn.
“There are no excuses,” May said. “If we don’t have any, they (students) won’t have any.”
“If you tell a child ‘this is what you’re able to do’ and ‘this is what I expect,’ they’ll do great things” in terms of learning, he said.
“Urban education” that teachers at schools such as Westside and Albert Harris must do is somewhat of “a different responsibility” than teaching in schools with more affluent students, May said. He indicated that is because teachers not only have to teach, but also help students overcome their problems.
But education begins at home, taught by family members — both male and female — who are positive role models and encourage children to set high goals and strive to achieve them, he emphasized.
Teachers need to reinforce that when needed, according to May.
“I tell my young ladies (students) all the time, ‘you’re much more than a baby mama, a chick magnet, a twerker,’” he said, using derogatory words sometimes applied to girls and women.
Sometimes “you have to tell them who they’re not so they can know who they are” as important people, May said.
He frequently uses street slang and the language of youth culture in his presentations and in talking with students.
In reaching out to a child, “I have to speak your language in order to get through to you,” he said.
Knowing about youth culture is important, too.
As an adult, May said, “if I don’t know what these kids are listening to (music) and what they’re watching (on television), I don’t know how to decode their (street) language.”
Those responsible for a child’s welfare must set ground rules for them as well as show love and concern, he said, or “all hell will break loose.”
Sometimes other family members have to take responsibility for raising children properly when parents refuse or are not around, May said.
He recalled when a troubled student started to “act a fool” in class. He could not reach the child’s mother, so he called the grandmother, who dropped the phone and rushed to the school, switch in hand.
May left them alone in his office for about two minutes. Upon returning, he said, the child was “breathing heavily,” apparently having been spanked, and the grandmother told him not to hesitate to call her if he needed to again.
He believes in corporal punishment, as long as it’s not abusive.
“The Bible says if you hit them with a rod, you won’t kill them. You’ll save them from hell,” he said.
May told parents, though, not to push their children to pursue activities — sports, for example — that the parents enjoyed or wanted to enjoy but were not able to while growing up and which their children dislike.
“Stop living through your baby,” he said.