Bel Air Elementary School staffers recently instituted new social groups called the Gentlemen's Club and Ladies' Club, aimed at providing at-risk pupils with stronger role models than the media celebrities that hold sway over many of them.
During a recent presentation to school officials and community volunteers, Gentlemen's Club founder Stephen Peters noted that as television and music personalities become stronger influences on children, many pupils are drawn to questionable role models such as rapper Lil' Wayne.
Peters also noted that Lil' Wayne made $212 million last year.
"One doesn't have to wonder why we have children walking around with dreams and aspirations like his," Peters said.
To combat such negative influences, Peters started the Gentlemen's Club while working as a principal for Lafayette-Winona Middle School in Norfolk, Va., in 1996.
Since then, his organization, The Peters Group, has established about 3,000 Gentlemen's Clubs and nearly 1,200 Ladies' Clubs in elementary and middle schools across the nation.
Each club has a membership of 20 to 25 pupils selected by school officials. Bel Air Elementary Principal Mark Boyd said fourth- and fifth-grade teachers picked pupils in need of mentoring or who show leadership potential.
The clubs begin with an inauguration ceremony, which will be held next month, where boys receive shirts and ties and girls receive blouses that they are expected to wear on each day of the weekly meetings.
Two regular facilitators will conduct the meetings, while a group of voluntary facilitators rotate in and out each week to discuss such topics as etiquette, responsibility, dignity and patience.
Larry Glover, pastor of the Lighthouse Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, which meets each week in the Bel Air Elementary cafeteria, and an assistant coach for the minor league basketball team the Augusta Groove, volunteered to act as a facilitator.
"I'm a believer in providing youth with good role models who can show them more options for their lives," Glover said. "This program provides an interesting opportunity."
Attendance, behavior and academic performance are the cornerstones of the clubs, Peters said.
The purpose of the clubs it to provide members someone they can admire and connect with, develop trust in and learn leadership skills from.
Peters said he wants to raise the members' expectations of themselves.
"Nobody rises to low expectations," he said. "We're giving these children options."
Bel Air Elementary recently received a $6,000 donation from SRP Federal Credit Union to initiate the program, and teachers already are developing lists of potential pupil candidates for the clubs.
Boyd said he first heard Peters speak two years ago and has admired his work ever since.
"Basically, he taught them leadership skills and worked with them on improving their attendance, academics and behavior," Boyd said.
Boyd said he also liked that the program provides incentives for strong performances in the clubs.
For example, those who learn proper etiquette are treated to a dinner at a four-star restaurant. Other incentives might include field trips to museums or professional sporting events.
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