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Waynesboro: Mentors are ‘an extension of our family’ at Wenonah Elementary School

Rebecca Barnabi
Freddy Jackson speaks to mentors and mentees at Wenonah Elementary School in Waynesboro on Friday, January 12, 2024. Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

In the beginning, students at Wenonah Elementary School thought that having a mentor in their lives held a stigma.

Not many students wanted to participate in the school’s mentorship program in which boy students are matched up with men in the community to serve as a mentor.

But, now 16 students in 2nd to 5th grades are in the program, which has a waiting list until more mentors are recruited.

“We were really looking forward to starting a mentorship program for our at-risk male students,” said Wenonah Elementary School Reading Specialist Michelle Shiflett, who organizes the program and matches up mentors and mentees.

Mentors began meeting with mentee students in early November.

“These mentors have actually done a great job so far coming in weekly,” Shiflett said.

In December, mentors joined mentees for a Christmas caroling trip.

According to Shiflett, the program is flexible and allows mentors and mentees to meet when it suits both of their schedules.

“I look at [the mentors] as an extension of our family here [at Wenonah],” Shiflett said.

And the impact of mentors is already appearing in classrooms. Shiflett said the confidence level of students in the program is up, grades have improved, and students are demonstrating better social skills.

“It actually worked out better than I hoped,” Shiflett said of her initial expectations of the program, which began in October with an orientation meeting.

Freddy Jackson founded The Love No Ego Foundation in Charlottesville in 2016. He travels to area schools encouraging students to live love, no ego lives.

On Friday afternoon at Wenonah, he returned to the school with his “The Ce’Real Buffet” demonstration.

“I am so excited to be here with ya’ll,” Jackson said to the room of mentors and mentees, including Waynesboro Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ryan Barber, Waynesboro Schools Director of Operations DeWayne Moore and Waynesboro Sheriff Chris Johnson.

Jackson asked the mentors to put their mentee’s favorite cereal in a bowl for them with milk and their least favorite cereal on top.

“We’re all different colors, different shapes, different sizes,” Jackson said of the cereal in comparison to humans.

And, like cereal, we are all put “in a bowl or in the world together and we have to make it work. We don’t have a choice,” Jackson said.

He encouraged the mentors and mentees to share with each other how they are similar and what they have in common, but also share what is different with each other.

Mentees were encouraged to work on acceptance of each other, listening to each other and sharing with each other.

“Imagine if everybody in the world did that?” Jackson said.

And mentees were asked to dig through their least favorite cereal to find their favorite, because, in life, we all have to endure some of what we do not like to get to the good stuff.

Then, mentees put their mentor’s favorite cereal in a bowl with milk and topped it off with the mentor’s favorite cereal.

At the end of Friday’s demonstration, Jackson told students: “I love you. I don’t have to know you to love you. You’re just like me.”

Jackson said he began Love No Ego because he was living in his own ego. He saw how much ego was in news and life around him “and love is often overshadowed.”

He has written books, including “Love No Ego: Where are You Living From?” and “The Youser’s Manual.”

“It’s been a really great program that just continues to grow. We’re just really proud of it,” Shiflett said of Wenonah’s mentorship program.

Shiflett said the school hopes to begin a mentorship program for girl students and women mentors also.

Men in Waynesboro and the surrounding areas who are interested in mentoring a student at Wenonah Elementary are welcome to email Shiflett at [email protected] or call the school’s front office. Each mentor must complete a packet and survey.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.