Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Advice to Young Women & Men I
More often than we wish, mentors report their mentees' parents are separating or divorcing. Once we as program directors know, we offer suggestions about how to handle this topic. 

In discussing the increase in marriage crises and the impact upon children and teens, Diana Dunham, a secretary of a Norman elementary school, shared what she has taught her own children. 

First, no relationship is ever easy. Observe how your friend was parented and how he or she treats his or her family. 

Diana's top five discussion items:                       

1. Religion

2. Politics

3. Finances

4. Child-rearing

5. Family (does matter!)

Definitely observe and discuss Diana's top five. Remember that sometimes we "fall in love" or become entangled with someone not really right for us. 

Thanks, Ms. Dunham, for all you do for our mentors and for your "kids."

Personal communication, May 2016

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ways to Utilize Peer Athletes II

Other Real Life Examples of Athletes' Making a Difference

Southwestern Oklahoma University Head Football Coach Dan Coccanouer has had his football staff and team go to Burcham Elementary School's Early Bird Readers Program at 7:30 a.m.  Coccannouer is an example of positive leadership and dedication to helping the very young read. 

Every coach can use his or her athletes to make a difference whether he or she is actually present or not. 

Excerpts about the University of Oklahoma Men's Gymnastics Team 


Team members assigned to a teacher to make weekly visits to tutor and mentor

Team hosts a school night at a home meet (or game); younger peers serve as personnel

Team performs at a school assembly


April 24, 2009
NORMAN, Okla. - The Oklahoma men's gymnastics team was honored Friday, April 24, by United Way and Junior League of Norman. Cleveland Elementary nominated the men’s gymnastics team for a Volunteer of the Year award for its work at Norman's Cleveland Elementary School.
The Sooners have joined the Norman school in a "Partners in Education" program developed by Cleveland music teacher Regina Bell and OU head coach Mark Williams, a former English teacher.  Members of the men's gymnastics team are assigned to a teacher and make weekly visits to their classroom throughout the year to tutor and mentor the students.

OU hosts an annual "Cleveland Elementary Night" at a home gymnastics meet.  This season the Sooners welcome Cleveland students, teachers and parents for a home meet each year at the Howard McCasland Field House. Students had the opportunity to serve as junior judges, score flashers, march-in leaders, junior PA announcer and award presenters at the meet.

Days before the "Cleveland Elementary Night" competition, the team performed a demonstration at a school assembly, showing off their skills on floor exercise, parallel bars, vault and pommel horse.
Ret. 6-21-16


Role modeling
Encouraging academics and athletics


Sept. 30, 2011
NORMAN, Okla. – The University of Oklahoma men’s gymnastics team continued its commitment to the Norman community Thursday by volunteering at Cleveland Elementary’s Jog-a-Thon fundraiser.

Members of the OU squad helped encourage the students throughout the event by cheering from the sidelines and running laps alongside them. The Jog-a-Thon, Cleveland Elementary’ s only fundraiser of the school year, helps earn money for the school’s Parent Teacher Association and is used for equipment, teacher support, building needs, technology and many other key costs of education.
In addition to Thursday’s Jog-a-Thon, many of the Sooner gymnasts volunteer their time throughout their week tutoring students at the school, a service that has blessed both the school and the gymnasts.
OU senior Patrick Piscitelli has been volunteering at Cleveland Elementary and is one of the many grateful gymnasts that spend time at the school.

“It is a great opportunity to get involved and give back to the community,” said Piscitelli. “It allows my team and myself to positively influence kids in academics and athletics. It is a rewarding feeling to know that we can help these children as they grow and develop.” 
Ret. 6-21-16

By the way, the University of Oklahoma's Men's Gymnastics program won its ninth NCAA Championship in 2015.

We will update this post with other examples occasionally, but the message is that student athletes can make a difference in their communities by mentoring, tutoring, and/or engaging with younger students.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ways to Utilize Peer Athletes I

This successful program is an adaptable model for other schools' coaches.

Marlow Football Buddies  

For many years on game days, the football players and cheerleaders every Friday go to the grade school to visit Pre-K through second grade. Players visit the classes for about 15-20 minutes. Usually, one to three players go to one class. Players greet, interact, play catch in the football field across the street, or hang out on the playground. 

The elementary teachers often make or supervise their students' making treat bags for the players to take back to the locker room. The school or athletic department sometimes makes shirts to give the elementary students. The students love it. The younger ones, who often have older siblings, look forward to the Football Buddies, and they get to know the athletes and cheerleaders. 

Behavior  This small program has improved behavior. If there are weeks when a class does not behave or do classwork, the teachers will tell them that their Football Buddies will not come, that they will lose this privilege this week. The Buddies don't come to the misbehaving class, but they do go to other classes. The children are really disappointed but learn, even in Pre-K, that behavior and actions matter. Football Buddies simply do not come if behavior is bad.  

Personal communication, 2014

In a June 2016 conversation with Felix Linden, the co-founder and advisor/teacher of the Roosevelt Leadership Academy, Felix viewed Marlow Football Buddies as a launching pad for almost all Oklahoma schools, including Oklahoma City Public Schools, for whom he works. Felix envisioned "Active Athletes" as the program name.


Activities could vary by grade, e.g., 1st and 2nd, 3rd and 4th, middle school, etc.

Length of Each Class Visit – 15-20 minutes, 30 minutes, or more 

Added benefit - Routinely assign players and cheerleaders to the same class(es) to increase relationship-building.

Change players as sports' seasons change, e.g., wrestling, basketball, soccer, golf, gymnastics, others.

Cedar Hill Longhorns,

Improved behavior (for mentors and mentees)                            

Increased self-worth (for mentors and mentees)

Emphasized academics and athletics

Visit Activities

Talking and listening to younger students *

Teaching or practicing a cheer, school fight song and more

Throwing/shooting balls, putting, cartwheels (depending upon sport)

Showing-and-telling with sporting equipment which students can touch or use

Reading a book with a few students or having them read to athletes

Trying on sports gear, having a photo made with an athlete, printed, and autographed

Assigning team members to a teacher to make weekly visits to tutor and mentor

    * Having name tags on the elementary students might be helpful for a few visits.

Pre- or Follow-up Activities

Making signs and/or coloring printables for athletes' lockers (Google sports worksheets and printables.)

Writing a short support message on a Post-It Note. "Go, Pete. Mark"

Attending games with families to cheer on their athletes

Honoring athletes for accomplishments at a elementary or middle school assembly

Doing some kind of school project, fundraiser, or community service together

Crafting - making tissue paper pom-poms in school colors to cheer on the athletes

Team's hosting a school night at a home meet (or game); younger peers serve as "personnel"

Team's performing at a school assembly (either something funny or a routine from their sport)


Transportation if the elementary or middle school(s) are far from the high school. Students will have to carpool, drive, or walk.

Disrupting students’ or athletes' instruction time

Generally, teachers are willing to give up instruction time for their students’ improved behavior and increased self-esteem.

Some schools allow athletes to leave early on game days, or alternate times can be decided.

Send us your ideas or best practices.

Trinity College athlete and mentees

Not Buying What You're Selling

Photo from
Reminders about fundraising and recruiting mentors.

Thanks for not buying popcorn from my son

by Trey Tompkins, Cub Scout parent

If you declined my son's offer to buy popcorn from his Cub Scout Pack yesterday, I owe you one. I'm serious.

I spent yesterday afternoon outside the exit of a local home improvement store with my six year old son and two other father / son pairings from his Cub Scout Pack. They were performing the seasonal ritual of selling popcorn to help raise money for their Pack's activities.

Through their efforts, they raised about $200 in about two hours. That seems to be pretty good production for three elementary school kids.

In watching my son and his friends "work", I was struck most by two different but ultimately related things.

First, many individuals who they talked to seemed so uncomfortable in saying "no". Everyone was very polite and many offered reasons for not handing over money to the kids. However, it was obvious that saying "no" made some of them uncomfortable.

Looking back on it, they needn't have felt any remorse or guilt at all. Those folks were doing my son and his friends a great service in teaching them valuable lessons about sales and achievement.

In sales, no matter how good your cause is (or no matter how cute you are in your little scout uniform) people don't owe you anything. They have to have a reason to want your product or "service." Most people who donated or bought popcorn told the kids that they wanted to support the scouts because they themselves or their children had been scouts. My guess is that they knew the good works that scouting does for kids and it made them feel good to make a small investment in that.

Also, even if someone values your product service, they might not be in a position to buy at that moment. Maybe they aren't carrying cash or they already bought from a kid in their neighborhood. Which leads to my second "aha" observation. Those kids heard a lot of "no" responses and yet they just kept on asking people exiting the store if they would like to support their Pack. They were so excited when someone eventually said yes.

After the Popcorn Sale, I took my son out for a quick dinner at a local restaurant. Over dinner, he told me that selling is hard work because you have to let so many people tell you "no" before you ever get someone to tell you "yes".

If you politely refusing to buy popcorn from him yesterday helped teach him this lesson at age 6, I owe you a debt of gratitude.
Thanks again!

Boy Scouts of America also featured Mr. Tompkins' life lesson on 10-17-2014. 

Ret. 6-21-16

Monday, June 20, 2016

Tips to Encourage Talking

Most mentors already know these tips.

Closed-mouth kids? Here's how to get 'em talking  

By Amy McCready

Mom:  “How was your day today?”
Kid: “Good.”

“Did you learn anything interesting?”

“What did you learn?”
“…I don’t know.”

Sound familiar?  Some days it seems like you could hold a better conversation with the family dog than with
your kids! The one-word answers, the body language and the general silence are clear signals that they'd rather tune you out than in. And while hunger, tiredness, or even a cranky mood can keep kids' kips sealed, our own conversation style can also be a big factor.
What, when, and how we communicate can all affect the person we’re talking to, and especially children. By making some small changes, we can move from one-word answers to real conversations.
Use these three tips to increase communication in your home:
1. Leave interrogations to detectives.  “How was school? Who did you sit with at lunch? How was your test?” It’s instinctual: You want to know what’s going on in your kids’ lives. But do you really have to barrage them with questions the minute they walk in the door? Putting your child in the hot seat and hitting him with the spotlight can cause him to clam up — wouldn’t you? Avoid the post-school probing and express yourself with a statement instead. Say, “Welcome home. I’m really happy to see you!”  Then give them time to relax — the conversation will follow.
2. Make quality time your daily routine. 
Emotional connection plays a large part in how comfortable kids are to opening up and sharing their feelings. Increase your connection to your child by committing to spending even just 10 minutes together once or twice a day.  Make sure you are 100 percent present during this time; no taking phone calls or watching the big game in the background. Use this opportunity to do something your child likes, such as reading his favorite story or doing a small craft project.  You will be amazed how much he will start sharing during your special time together.
3. Share yourself! The communication road goes both ways: If your child seems hesitant about opening up, then you do the sharing. Instead of worrying about finding a topic of interest to your child, focus on talking openly and naturally about yourself — how your day was, the upcoming family vacation, the fact that someone stole your lunch from the work fridge — whatever happens to be on your mind.  End your conversation by saying, “Thanks for listening. I feel better when I can talk about things with you.” Not only does your child now know more about you, but you’ve also become a model for how they can communicate their own thoughts in the future.
These strategies are sure to get even the most mime-like children to start to chit-chat. By tweaking your communication, you’ll not only learn more about your children, but you will have begun sharing your life with them as well. And that’s something to talk about!

Have you had problems getting your kids to open up? What strategies do you use to get the dialogue going?

Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of "If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling." For easy-to-implement strategies for happier families and well-behaved kids, follow Positive Parenting Solutions on Facebook.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Books in the Barbershop, Jackson, Mississippi
Thanks to Books in the Barbershop founders Rosaline and Marcus McCoy for adapting a Harlem books in the barbershop model to improve reading and much more in their community of Jackson, Mississippi.

Marcus is the intrepid, entrepreneurial, and lead barber, and Rosaline, his wife, is chief strategist and is (was) the Jackson Council PTA president who began the project. Cheers for them--and the community!

Why Books in the Barbershop?

  • "cornerstone of the community"
  • "to better engage men in a place that men love"
  • "put a little library into every barbershop in the city"

Essential Partners  Barbers & barbershops

Optional Community Partners 

  • Parent Teacher Association or Organization (PTA/PTO)
  • Businesses
  • Local foundations
  • School district - provides reading instruction strategies used by literacy coaches
  • Jackson barbers, a young reader,
    and Councilman Stamps
  • Literacy groups
  • The entire community

Any of the partners can drop off books at a central location (Jackson Public Schools Partners in Education office in this model).


  • Increases literacy skills early
  • Increases male engagement
  • Changes the conversation--from food, school, and similar things to "What are you reading?"
  • Connects local businesses, parents and young men of the community
  • Encourages youths to read, not just play with a cell phone
  • Created and grown by the community with a little help from partners

At McWillie Elementary, every student passed the [statewide third-grade 
reading] test on the first try after implementation of this program.


  • Children can set goals, e.g., reading 20 books. 
  • Young clients who read and discuss a book get a small toy or snack from a vending machine.
  • Youths take the books home, read them, and bring them back.
  • Youths are engaged in reading aloud or silently at the shop.
  • Youths, especially siblings, read to each other.
  • Some parents read to their children.
  • Readers receive encouragement, validation, and sometimes help pronouncing words.
  • African-American youths identify more closely with the love of reading and with adult males as champions of reading.

Negative (Really?)
Cutting hair sometimes slows as the barbers pronounce words and ask questions about books.


  • Expand participating barbershops
  • Expand the program to beauty salons to help girls

Jackson City Council President De'Keither Stamps, Ward 4, said in a press release:
Councilman Stamps
Historically, barber shops have served as a hub for young men to discuss cultural, political and community-related topics. For generations to come, fathers will continue to bring their sons into barber shops, so why not provide these popular, local establishments with the resources needed to promote and encourage literacy among our community."                                                                         
Jackson Free Press, 6-5-15

Books in the Barbershop     

Barbershop Books in NYC

"Tackling children's literacy in a Harlem barbershop"

"Barbershops place books in boys' hands"

In October 2015, Tracey Gallagher, director for Teen Trendsetters (TM), a program of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, told us about Books in the Barbershop, a highly adaptable program that can be a adapted for community of any size. Becky Dyer, the BBFFL's executive vice president, learned about it as she toured the foundation's literacy program sites around the United States. Thanks to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy for sharing with Oklahoma.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Career Exploration Site, Breitlinks

Mr. Breitsprecher's "Career Exploration," has a vast compilation of easy-to-use resources. Some of his material may have expired links or be under revision, but exploring his topical site is worthwhile. Although Mr. Breitsprecher himself is a prolific educational and informational author, he has collected links from expert sources and institutions.

The host website is extensive, although we began with "Career Activities." On the right is the menu for,
the exploration section, but on the website are math tips, business education, entrepreneurism, business etiquette, and much more.

"Business Simulations," one of the interactive pages, provides links to a wide variety of career games to be played online. 

One more example of the scope of information is the assessment document. 

Breitsprecher also has slides on

Host website for everything

Ret. 5-31-16