Students mentor at-risk eighth graders

A group of around 10 UNA students volunteer one hour every Wednesday morning for Florence Middle School’s Pathways program.

“Pathways is a grant-funded program for at-risk students at Florence Middle School,” said Sociology Professor Andrea Hunt. “They are chosen for the program and are considered at risk for various reasons including grades and excessive absences. Some of them have had a hard time finding a social group that they fit in with, and this may be the reason they are in the program.”

Hunt said she first became involved with the Pathways program when she presented CHOICES, a program to help eighth-grade students who have at-risk academic issues, to students at FMS.

“It was so much fun,” she said. “I told them I would love to come back and check up on them.”

The students seemed excited about the prospect, she said.

“I talked with the teacher to see if I could come back,” she said. “She told me they had been trying to get some mentors to come, and I told her I would try as well. I reached out to students, and this is how it all got started.”

Hunt said she first told her sociology class about the Pathways program as a possible way for them to gain experience working with young people, but told them she would not offer extra credit for it.

Being lucky enough to have positive role models in her own life is why she got involved, said senior Erin Cooper.

“It’s the least I could do to pay it forward and be a positive role model for someone who may not have one,” she said. “We hang out with them during class and talk to them. Sometimes we have a particular topic to talk about. Once, we talked about test taking strategies and studying tips.”

After overwhelming support from her students, Hunt said she called the Athletic Department and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. to get more male students involved.

Both the athletes and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. students were more than willing to get involved, she said.

“It says a lot about our athletic program that we’ve created at UNA that people aren’t coming here just to play sports,” Hunt said. “They are also important to the community, and they serve as role models to the community. This also reflects so much on our university and a sense of community that we really cultivate at our university.”

Athletics encourages student athletes to get involved in the community, said athletic director Mark Linder.

“Serving others is important to our character development and living a champion’s life,” he said. “Serving others is critically important in becoming a productive member of society.”

The FMS students are happy to see the volunteers each Wednesday morning, Hunt said.

They want to show what they have done the past week, said sophomore Kaitlin Sharpton.

Volunteering will continue at FMS, Hunt said.

“Next semester, we will be helping them work on character education, helping them develop time management skills, developing healthy relationships with people around them, helping them to mediate conflict and (teaching them) how to avoid conflict in general online and social media,” Hunt said.

These students feel like they have people in their lives that care about them, she said.

“We just wanted to give them something they were excited about,” Hunt said. “(We wanted to give the eighth-grade students) something that would give them some incentive to come to school to help their attendance and also a place for them to develop larger goals outside of the eighth grade.”