Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) pupil personnel workers (PPWs) are dedicated to providing students with the necessary support and resources to excel academically and personally. Their primary objective is to help students realize their full potential and become valuable members of society. Throughout the past academic year, several CCPS schools have implemented initiatives led by PPWs, either through the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) or through their own efforts, to offer students additional assistance in improving their interpersonal skills and overall performance.

Mattawoman Middle School eighth graders had an opportunity to mentor Berry Elementary School fifth-grade students this past year through a peer-to-peer mentorship program called Friends Leading Educational Excellence (FLEX) mentoring. The program launched during the 2022-2023 school year after being developed by pupil personnel workers (PPW) Tiara King of Mattawoman pictured from far left at the top, and Justine Jewel, PPW at Berry, William A. Diggs and William B. Wade elementary schools, pictured far right on top row. Credit: Charles County Public Schools

One such initiative, known as FLEX (Friends Leading Educational Excellence), was introduced by Tiara King, PPW at Mattawoman Middle School, and Justine Jewel, PPW at Berry, William A. Diggs, and William B. Wade Elementary schools. The program aimed to provide elementary-aged students with opportunities to enhance their academic performance, attendance, and leadership skills through peer-to-peer mentoring. King and Jewel, who had previously worked together as co-counselors, wanted to leverage their proximity as PPWs to develop a program where older middle school students could mentor their younger counterparts. With guidance from their supervisor, Garcia Dixon, who had prior experience leading a mentorship program, they successfully planned and executed the FLEX program.

Under FLEX, participating Mattawoman Middle School students were paired with Berry Elementary School students. The program encouraged the development of interpersonal relationships between student mentors, teachers, family members, and other adults in the students’ lives. Kamron Walker, a former eighth-grade student at Mattawoman Middle School, expressed his enthusiasm for the program, stating, “Being with my mentee, playing games with him, and letting him know what to expect in middle school is my favorite part about the program.” The program offered academic guidance and fostered a sense of support and friendship among the participants.

The program trained eighth-grade mentors from Mattawoman Middle School for six weeks before its commencement to ensure they had the necessary leadership skills to guide their mentees effectively. Reflecting on the program’s success, Jewel stated, “This is the first year that we have done the program, and we plan to continue it.”

At Westlake High School, the second year of the Elite Black Men (EBM) group was underway during the 2022-2023 school year. The group’s formation resulted from the Achieving Academic Equity and Excellence for Black Boys for Maryland (AAEEBB) initiative, which focuses on improving the educational experience of Black boys in Maryland schools. Westlake High School and J.P. Ryon Elementary School were selected as pilot schools for this initiative. Tina Laury, PPW at Westlake, explained that the EBM group aimed to increase academic achievement among Black boys and provide them with a sense of belonging and brotherhood.

The Elite Black Men group at Westlake High School met regularly throughout the academic year, collaborating with the initiative group at Ryon. The students participated in team-building exercises and engaged in outreach opportunities within the school and community.

Additionally, elementary-aged female students had the opportunity to be part of the Diamond Girls group. Led by Sheryl Morrison, PPW at Indian Head, Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy, and J.C. Parks elementary schools, the Diamond Girls program focused on empowering students through various activities and guest speaker sessions. The group met monthly after school to enhance student achievement and foster social engagement. Morrison explained that the program provides support until the students graduate from elementary school, after which they can join a subgroup called Diamonds Return in middle school.

The PPWs in Charles County Public Schools are committed to creating an inclusive and supportive environment for students to thrive academically and personally. Through initiatives like FLEX, the Elite Black Men group, and Diamond Girls, they are addressing the specific needs of students and promoting their overall development.

These programs have proven to be successful in fostering positive relationships, improving academic performance, and enhancing social skills among participating students. The FLEX program, spearheaded by Tiara King and Justine Jewel, has enabled older students to mentor younger ones, guiding them through the transition to middle school and providing valuable support. The mentorship aspect of the program has been particularly impactful, as students have someone to confide in and seek guidance from outside their immediate family or teachers.

Similarly, the Elite Black Men group at Westlake High School has created a space where Black boys can unite, form a brotherhood, and support each other academically. By focusing on increasing academic achievement and fostering a sense of belonging, the group aims to address the disparities. Black boys face test scores and disciplinary referrals. The collaboration with the AAEEBB initiative further strengthens the efforts to create a more equitable educational experience for Black boys in Maryland schools.

The Diamond Girls program offers elementary-aged female students a platform for learning from their peers and program mentors. The activities and guest speakers not only contribute to their academic growth but also help them develop valuable life skills and motivation. Continuing the program into middle school through Diamonds Return ensures a smooth transition and ongoing student support.

The dedication and commitment of PPWs like Tiara King, Justine Jewel, Tina Laury, and Sheryl Morrison, among others, have been instrumental in the success of these initiatives. Their passion for supporting students and creating opportunities for growth and development have significantly impacted the lives of the students they serve.

As Charles County Public Schools prioritize their students’ well-being and success, these programs serve as shining examples of the commitment to academic excellence and holistic development. By focusing on mentorship, camaraderie, and empowerment, these initiatives contribute to creating a positive and inclusive learning environment for all students.

The Charles County Public Schools and its dedicated PPWs plan to expand and enhance these programs, ensuring that even more students have access to the resources and support they need to reach their fullest potential. By nurturing academic excellence, interpersonal skills, and leadership qualities, they are building a brighter future for the students of Charles County.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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