By Thomas Sellers Jr.
In less than two months, Millington Municipal Schools Superintendent Bo Griffin has become a familiar face around Millington Middle School.
As students greeted him by name Friday morning, another role model arrived to a similar response. Millington Family YMCA’s Daniel Burnett has been a fixture around the middle school with the Solutions Youth Mentoring program.
“We’re putting positive male role models around them,” Burnett noted. “We have Bo Griffin coming to talk to them. We also have their Principal Selina Sparkman coming in to talk with them.
“What we do, I spend two days a week, one-on-one talking to them,” he continued. “I’m getting to know them. Then every Friday we have adversary. We spend time interacting and going through a course on the internet. We bring somebody in and we talk to them.”
Last Friday morning, Griffin and Sparkman were the guest speaker of Burnett and Millington Family YMCA executive director Lizzie McLean.
The 2018-19 school year launched the second year of Y’s Solutions program targeting male students in the seventh and eighth grades. This year’s enrollment has 15 students being mentored by Burnett, McLean, Sparkman, Griffin, Dr. Pointer, Dr. Gordon and Coach T. Taylor.
“We’re looking for as many good men and women to come and provide good role models for these young men,” Burnett added.
The Solutions Program is designed to develop teens through leadership training, character development, service to others and social development. The measurable goals of the program are increased grade-point averages, decreased absences and tardies, and less office referrals. The program is designed to improve leadership skills, self-esteem, broaden life experiences and develop trusting relationships with their peers.
“I want to take these young men and young women and give them an opportunity to be the very best they can be in and outside of the classroom,” Griffin said. “If we can start here, they can get the basic understanding of the expectations of them and take it to the next level in high school.
“It is very important you put positive people in their lives,” he added. “I know Church and State are separated, the one thing that schools and the religious aspect of society gives us is hope. That’s the thing the Y comes in and does, it gives us hope and another path. You don’t have to go down this road to be successful.”
Griffin spoke to the members of Solutions about their futures and gave them multiple avenues of aspirations from being a football player to a mechanic. The students had a chance to ask their superintendent questions and get to know him personally.
Griffin shared his journey from Arkansas to the top spot at MMS.
“I think that is vitally important that we show them that,” he said. “If we don’t show them the right way, the world is going to show them the wrong way.”
Sparkman shared her educational journey with the boys. From humble beginnings in Frayser to a successful career with Memphis City Schools, Sparkman said all her experiences made her ready to service as principal at Millington Middle School.
Since Sparkman took over the head job at Millington Middle, the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scores have improved in multiple areas.
She and her staff have instituted research programs to help the students determine if they want to seek a technical or university path for higher education. Community leaders come in for a three-day process to help the students and evaluate their future prospects.
Millington Middle students attend college tours with sixth graders going to The University of Memphis, seventh graders visiting UT-Martin or Union University and eighth graders going out of state to Mississippi State or Ole Miss.
Millington Middle’s STEM program is one of the best in Tennessee under the guidance of Malcolm Sanders. And Sparkman gets in the classrooms on Friday as part of the advisory period geared toward emotional and social aspects of the students.
Sparkman and other instructors normally teach a class on Fridays with less than 10 students to work on values and building communications.
Sparkman said she hopes residents of Millington can see the work going into the Stallions.
“I want people to come in and see the great things we’re doing,” she said. “I can tell you all about it. Until you actually come in and actually witness it, I think the result speak for themselves.”
Speaking for themselves is something Sparkman hopes programs like Solutions helps her students do now and down the line.
“It should tell them that we are a school in the middle of a strong community,” she said. “We’ve really reached out to our community members. I built an advisory team of business leaders and of the community.
“They told us that need workers that are well-skilled in doing things like looking somebody in the eye while shaking hands,” Sparkman added. “Being able to talk well and being able to put together a resume’, so in eighth grade our students take time to look at what they want to be in life.”
Griffin said it will take the staff of Millington Middle, personnel at Millington Municipal Schools and leaders throughout Flag City to help the children reach their full potential.
“The African proverb, ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child,’” he said. “It’s true and we just had our first monthly meeting of our religious and business leaders. The room was packed. It’s amazing to me how many community members not just us to be successful but this town to be successful.
“They are providing the people and resources that they need. Family takes care of family,” Griffin continued. “The only way we can take care of family is that we know what the problems are. We have to take care of our own.”
Burnett said the Y will continue to be on the front-line helping Millington Middle students choose a positive road for their futures.
“Today with permission of the school we went through a little Biblical course,” he noted. “It was just about how much God loves them and wants to change their lives. We do use that as a backdrop.
“When I was in middle school it was a crucial time,” Burnett reflected. “I had nobody to come along side me. My mom was the only role model I had because my dad worked all the time. So middle school was where I found negative role models that led me down a bad path.”
Burnett said finding a purpose has lead him to being a leader in Solutions and he wants to make sure his students get that choose sooner in life.
“I know from personal experience, if you don’t put positive people in their lives, there will be negative role models in their lives,” he concluded. “It is so important because middle school is where we’re learning how to grow, talk, act. It’s where we start to become an adult. So if we don’t bring something positive along, the negativity will take them. And it might be too late.”
For more information about the program or to become a part of it, contact McLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 873-1434.