Young men motivated to be role models

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
Published November 28, 2007

It started in 1995 with a Pinellas school administrator's dream and the backing of a state senator from Miami-Dade County who had begun it in 1993 as a school principal.

The program that former school official Vyrle Davis brought to Pinellas County in 1995 was called the 500 Role Models of Excellence. A year ago, after surpassing both Davis' and state Sen. Frederika Wilson's expectations, the program's name was changed to 5000 Role Models to reflect its expansion to Jacksonville and New York City.

But its mission - to intervene in the lives of mostly minority male students, who historically are more likely to be suspended and to drop out of school - has remained the same.

Coordinated through the district's office of family and community relations, school officials credit 5000 Role Models with helping to reduce the number of children who skip school and use drugs.

"Role Models is not necessarily focused on academics," former Pinellas coordinator William Bryant said at a mentor gathering last spring. "It's geared toward developing self-esteem and self-worth of our young men. We believe that if a child feels good about himself and knows where he's going in life, the rest will take care of itself."

- Donna Winchester

By the numbers

1,500 Role model students

150 Role model mentors

70 Pinellas County schools that participate

For more information, call the school district's office of equal opportunity, 588-6198.

Fast facts

- 5000 Role Models of Excellence is a program that provides role model/mentors who help cultivate the positive characteristics of challenged males, many minority students in Pinellas elementary, middle and high schools.

- The program provides extracurricular enrichment activities for the young men.

- Student participation is based on grades, behavior and school attendance improvement and requires parental permission. Students are selected for the program by teachers, administrators and guidance counselors.

- The mentors, role models themselves, are men from diverse professional backgrounds who reflect the characteristics of self-confidence, leadership and independence.

- Role models volunteer at schools and discuss such topics as cultural understanding, mutual respect, identification of goals and empowerment.