South Students Mentor to Close Achievement Gap
Posted on April 15, 2019
One conversation about how middle and high school students in Jackson, Ala., can be mentored and better supported led to the creation of the Gap Project, Inc.
The mentors and board members of this project don’t fit the stereotypical professional middle-aged adult. They are students at the University of South Alabama.
The Gap Project is the brainchild of Randy Bumpers, a Jackson native and instructional design and development graduate student, along with Javon Averett, a native of Perryville, Md., and a public administration graduate student, and Chelsia Douglas, a Jackson native who is a graduate of South Alabama, will start in South’s public administration master’s program in June.
“I was sharing my concerns with Javon about how when I was growing up in Jackson, there weren’t a lot of extracurricular activities for youths and teens to participate in. And this was not the first time I had grumbled about how easy it is for kids to get in trouble when they don’t have fun and educational activities. And Javon said ‘Well, let’s do something about it,’ and the Gap Project was born,” said Bumpers, president and founder. “We have created something that would give the kids an outlet and connection to college students and different experiences, so they can start dreaming bigger than their community.”
Bumpers and Averett reached out to Douglas to share their idea, and together, they created four pillars of focus under the Gap Project:
- Personal Wellness
- Personal Leadership
- Financial Literacy and
- Career Exploration
Douglas, who manages and helps schedule events and programs, said seeing the lack of opportunity and education in Jackson sparked something in them to want to do something positive for the community.
“Being from small towns or rural areas, youth and teens don’t get the same exposure as those from larger cities,” Douglas said. “With the Gap Project, we are bridging the gap in between having and not having the resources.”
“We are bridging the gap in between having and not having the resources.”
Bumpers is now able to take what he’s learned in his graduate studies at South and help design programs that work for the project.
“We wanted to give the kids a vision through a vision board social event, and our mentor said before we do one for the kids, we need to go through the experience ourselves,” Bumpers explained. “We scheduled a day to sit down together and we created our vision boards, and then went to Jackson Middle School and made a class vision board, where the students were able to dream about cars, colleges and careers or whatever they saw in their future. The students were extremely excited about this experience.”
The Gap Project members started working last year with the students in the seventh grade and have conducted about 15 sessions with the students since then. Averett said the students, now in the eighth grade, are hungry for knowledge.
“One of the things that we recognized is that the students look at us as an older version of themselves,” Averett noted. “We are only about 10 years older than each of the eighth-grade students. We strongly believe the program is doing so well because young people are mentoring younger people.”
Each of the board members knows first-hand that mentoring matters. And they understood having a purpose for their lives would demonstrate that there are no limits to success. Bumpers left a job in Enterprise to go to graduate school at South full time, and Averett learned that organization is important for a program to be impactful. Douglas said having their eighth-grade teacher, Vanessa Patterson, who is now the eighth-grade teacher of the students they are mentoring, puts things into a bigger perspective.
“I have always wanted to be a teacher,” Douglas said. “But, working with our students has changed my focus from wanting to be in the classroom, to wanting to change the system and create policy for a better community. This experience has elevated me to look at working to support education from a different perspective.”
“Working with our students has changed my focus from wanting to be in the classroom, to wanting to change the system and create policy for a better community.”
They are also grateful to Patterson for allowing them to implement the four pillars of the Gap Project. Patterson said she is honored to share her class and students with what she calls outstanding, visionary and success-driven young adults.
“All three of them have a heart and passion to give back to young people. And that’s not only in their hometown, but to all they meet,” Patterson said. “This year has been like being awarded Teacher of the Year! I have been blessed to see my former students, my ‘sweet peas’ and ‘Sugar Plums,’ not only accomplish their goals with a degree but to have the foresight to design and develop a curriculum to help bridge the gap for my students. My students are participating in class more and they really look forward to the Gap Project sessions. The presentation is easy to understand and it’s relatable. I am inspired.”
Bumpers, Averett and Douglas are committed to the Gap Project long-term. After incorporating last year, they are close to securing the organization’s 501(C)(3), non-profit status.
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