Press "Enter" to skip to content

Fenger Seeks Mentors for Life Lessons

Joseph Walker does not want the death of his grandson, Derrion Albert, to be in vain.

He made that clear last week to the Chicago Board of Education as he spoke about Derrion, a 16-year-old honor roll student fatally beaten Sept. 24 on his way home from Fenger Academy High School, 11220 S. Wallace St.

A moment of silence was held at the board’s Oct. 28 meeting in honor of Derrion, one of eight Chicago Public Schools students killed since school started a little more than seven weeks ago.

“We must unite for a common cause to stop violence in this city,” said Walker.

Parents and staffers at Fenger agree, and that’s why they’re seeking to raise $100,000 to start a mentoring and life training program — possibly integrated into the South Side school’s curriculum — for the 1,300 students and their parents.

“The program’s critical, we have to start working together,” said Walker. “What can you lose if you implement a program into a school? You have winners coming out.”

To raise funds, Fenger’s acting Local School Council chairman, Curtis Brown, is seeking help from local Fortune 500 companies. He’s targeting 500 to 1,000 investors, “but one corporation could adopt Fenger,” he said. “We need private help, we don’t want people to just be here for the moment,” said Brown, whose son Darvezz Person is a junior at the school. “This should be something ongoing.”

Since Derrion was killed, Loyola University has offered mentoring and the Chicago Sky offered basketball camp for female students attending Fenger. But Brown is also hoping positive role models like Oprah or Michael Jordan, whose ex-wife Juanita attended Fenger, might visit.

“It would definitely motivate the majority of the students to see somebody of that stature paying attention to them,” said Brown, who is also the school’s basketball coach. “I believe it would speak volumes to their confidence. Kids need to see another side, other than violence and gang crime.

“Those kids are just thirsty little animals, just waiting for somebody to come in and tell them something positive,” said Brown. “It’s sad, because it’s a whole generation lost because they don’t feel they have mentors and anybody affecting them in a positive way.”

Generally, a credible community-based effort to provide mentoring for youth is a positive step, said Frank Shuftan, a spokesman for the Chicago Public Schools. According to the National Mentoring Partnership, students who meet regularly with a mentor are 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school and 46 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs.

There are more than 170 tutoring and/or mentoring programs in Chicago, said Dan Bassill, president of Cabrini Connections Tutor/Mentor Connection, a Cabrini-Green-based mentoring program.

Yet Bassill said there is little solid information on long-term outcomes because too few programs have maintained long-term connections with enough kids.

“The best thing a mentoring program can do,” said Bassill, “is add an extra layer of caring adults, surrogate relatives and community members to the lives of kids who have too few people who can model the wide range of jobs/careers available and who will provide on-going support.”

Also at last week’s Chicago Board of Education meeting, several people demanded a moratorium on Renaissance 2010, whose goal is to increase high-quality educational options across Chicago by creating 100 new schools and closing poorly performing ones. Parents said since Carver High became a military school as part of Renaissance 2010 and its students were relocated to Fenger, violence has increased.

“We see kids grieving all the time,” said Brown. “You can tell when you talk to our kids that something is happening, and us as adults and parents have to help them. That’s where mentoring would come in.”

Former Fenger student and volunteer Clotel Cameron — who runs the school’s Total You program through her nonprofit, Teach Them How — said she’d like to see students taken to places such as City Hall, The Oprah Show, Trump Tower, and even the penitentiary, “So they can see where they don’t want to go.”

“They need somebody to care,” said Cameron.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *