By Taylor Shunk
Robert McPhatter and Bobby Croce are making a difference in the lives of a group of boys at Mispillion Elementary School. “We saw a need at the school,” said McPhatter. “A lot of the young boys seemed to be lacking a male role model.” With the support of the administration, four years ago the Gentleman’s Leadership Team was born.
McPhatter, a behavioral specialist at the school, wanted to use his experience to make a difference. “I’ve always looked at behavior from a positive aspect even though I deal with a lot of negativity in my work,” said McPhatter.
It’s also easy to see how Croce, a student family interventionist at the school, uses his training as well. “My background is working with teenagers in foster care,” said Croce. “We’re just trying to prevent the boys from making some of those bad decisions.”
The Gentleman’s Leadership Team (GLT) is comprised of 4th and 5th graders and they meet once a week during school hours. “Transportation is hard for a lot of the kids so, meeting after school would be hard,” said Croce. They select the kids where they see the need and they won’t hunt them down when it’s time to meet either. “We make them responsible for coming and most of them do,” said Croce.
Basic social skills such as making eye contact and shaking hands correctly are high on their list of priorities. “We’re trying to give them the tools and resources to get to the next level,” said McPhatter. “From boys to young men and eventually men.” Some of the other important skills they teach include manners, acting responsibly, tying a tie, respect, apologizing, introductions and teamwork.
McPhatter and Croce try to instill GLT’s core values into the boys. “During our meeting we chant our core values: Focus (concentrate,) Inspire (motivate,) lead (set example,) and excel (move forward),” said Croce. The boys also wear wrist bands and pins to remind them. “It takes a lot of repetition with them” said Mcphatter. They always hold the boys accountable as well. “We can’t be with them all day,” said Croce. “They’re a team and they have to step up if someone in the group is making a bad decision.”
Using their skills in the real world is huge too. “We want to get them public exposure and get them to feel comfortable,” said McPhatter. “They also need to know the importance of the feeling you get when people recognize you for a good reason.”
Making sure the boys know how to be part of a team is key. “We do team building exercises,” said croce. “They get frustrated but we are really trying to build them up.” The parents are very supportive and seem to be part of the team as well. “A parent will reach out to us about a challenging kid,” said McPhatter. “So, we’ll do a group exercise to engage the student instead of directly calling him out.”
McPhatter and Croce also know the importance of positivity. “We like to do a shout out when the boys are doing great,” said Croce. “The parents appreciate hearing the good stuff too.” The GLT also hosts guest speakers from the community. “These guys are always captivating and really grab the kid’s attention,” said McPhatter. “Many have even take the boys under their wings.”
As a way of practicing their skills, the GLT attends a varsity basketball game once a year. “The kids really get excited about doing something offsite,” said Croce. “They want to be active.” They also hope to have an end of the year party. “We’re always brainstorming and trying to keep the boys excited,” said Croce.
“They’re really good boys,” said Croce. They both agree that these skills are something the boys will use their whole lives. “We’ve seen some major changes in them,” said McPhatter. “Although we may not see all the fruits of our labor now, we know it will come.”