Kenwood Academy mentoring group provides model for CPS to follow

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Once upon a time, DeMarcus Hyler was an aimless sophomore at Kenwood
Academy on the South Side. But he wanted to be cool, so when the cool
kids started a mentoring group, he joined and followed.

“Kyle had the girls and the clothes and the car,” DeMarcus says of Kyle
McGhee, who founded the Brotherhood group at Kenwood in 2004. “I wanted
the girls and the clothes and the car, so I wanted to be everywhere
Kyle was.”

That decision turned his life around.

Once upon a time, DeMarcus Hyler was an aimless sophomore at Kenwood Academy on the South Side. But he wanted to be cool, so when the cool kids started a mentoring group, he joined and followed.

“Kyle had the girls and the clothes and the car,” DeMarcus says of Kyle McGhee, who founded the Brotherhood group at Kenwood in 2004. “I wanted the girls and the clothes and the car, so I wanted to be everywhere Kyle was.”

That decision turned his life around.

Now a high school graduate with plans for a career as a minister, Hyler makes an astute observation about mentoring, an approach that CPS plans to rely upon in its multi-million dollar effort to target and help teens who are at risk of being involved in gun violence.

Hyler’s observation: For mentoring to work, it is important to listen to and understand what is important to the young people that one is trying to influence, and to let those interests guide the program’s design. 

That is one of the points made in a new resource guide for school counselors written by Kenwood Academy counselor Shelby Wyatt, who was instrumental in helping students start a mentoring group for black and Latino males. On Tuesday, a book-signing was held in Kenwood’s library to mark the publication of The Brotherhood: A Mentoring Program for African-American Males. The guide can be purchased on the American School Counselor Association’s web site for $19.95.

It is a purchase that CEO Ron Huberman and the directors of Youth Advocate Programs, the Pennsylvania-based organization hired by CPS to run its $5 million mentor initiative, might want to make. At the event, several students, alumni and administrators said they thought Wyatt’s model might be an effective way to address the problem of youth violence and recast the image of young black and Latino men.

Wyatt says his guide stresses two points about mentoring: To be successful, strong relationships must be built between the students and the mentors, and the program must have structured lesson plans around specific subjects to be addressed—such as family relationships, college-going and character-building.

With young men of color, Wyatt says, the program must also include empowerment. “They have to think and believe that they can achieve,” he explains. 

Wyatt’s resource guide piggy-backs on a pamphlet written in 2005 by the young men participating in The Brotherhood. In their pamphlet, called “The Brother’s Key,” they suggest such things as creating a creed or code for the organization and letting the participants recruit other members and choose the subjects to be discussed and the extracurricular activities that will be available.

The young men also note that participants should do service-learning projects and be honored at a closing ceremony.

Kenwood Principal Elizabeth Kirby says watching the Brotherhood organization’s birth and subsequent grow into a successful enterprise has taught her an important lesson: “We need to get out of the way.”