January is National Mentoring Month, a time to honor those who work to help students outside the classroom, often helping students succeed in the classroom. Officer Anthony Jones is such a mentor. Jones is not a superhero. He doesn’t wear a cape or challenge masked villains, but Jones still fights the good fight – both professionally and personally. As a school police officer and after-school mentor in Philadelphia’s Germantown High School, to many students, Jones is super.
Germantown is one of 11 Promise Academies, which are district-run turnaround schools. “We’re rebuilding spirit, climate, and pride at Germantown High School,” said Margaret Mullen-Bavwidinsi, who has been the school’s principal for three years. “Today, we’re training 9th graders not just for 9th grade, but for life.”
Three years ago, when the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia brought the Step It Up! mentoring program to the school, Jones was among the first to volunteer.
“I see all the students here as my children,” said Jones. “At school, it’s ‘everything for the students.’”
As a mentor and a police officer, Jones employs a “tough love” stance, through which he attempts to foster increased responsibility, trust, compromise, and focus in his students. “The mentoring program allows me the opportunity to sit down, be involved, talk, teach, and listen to things that are going on in students’ lives,” says Jones, whose former mentees frequently call him with post-graduate successes.
He also says that mentoring gives him a chance to engage with students outside the confines of crowded halls and disciplinary actions. According to Jones, the program can function as a type of “surrogate parent” for students who don’t have access to male or female role models at home.
While Jones has been a mentor for only three years, he was previously involved with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia’s SMART Moves program, which engages students in responsible decision-making. There, he learned that “some students just need more attention. I say to my kids, ‘If you want guidance, I’ll give it. If not, I’ll just listen.’”
Years ago, as a school police officer, Jones had to apply direct pressure to a student’s stab wound using his own shirt as a compress. As a mentor, Jones now helps students relieve pressure through something he loves most: line dancing. “My students love to do things they’ve never done before,” says Jones.
Jones plays many roles – security officer, mentor, friend, counselor, confidante, teacher, and listener — through which he actively affects change in students’ lives at Germantown High School. Sometimes, the best companion a student needs is a straightforward man, like Jones, who is willing to invest his time and talent.
Secretary Duncan spoke on the importance of mentoring last year at a United Way Education town hall. “All of us need those adults in our lives who are going to help us uncover those gifts, uncover those talents, that we may not even know that exist within us,” Duncan said. “And for students that don’t have the support that we would like for them to have at home, this will change their lives forever.”
–Meredith Bajgier, a student at Drexel University, works part-time in the Department’s Regional Office in Philadelphia.