Young men at Williamsburg’s Lafayette High School are meeting at 7:30 in the morning, every week.
They’re doing it voluntarily.
And what they get out of it is mentoring, from a program spearheaded by three staff members on a mission.
“Our job as mentors for these young men is not to tell them what to do,” said Archie Jefferson, student advancement coach at Lafayette and co-creator of the program Men of Vision and Purpose. “Our job is to make sure we create an environment where they feel like they can do anything.”
After seeing spikes in truancy violations and disciplinary enforcement and faltering grade-point averages, William Capers, André McLaughlin and Jefferson decided they had to try to fix the problems. In 2016, they created Men of Vision and Purpose, a program aimed at developing character and educational skills.
Putting in the work
During the weekly meetings, approximately 80 male high-school students meet in gym for team-building and other activities, according to McLaughlin, master police officer for James City County and the school resource officer at Lafayette. The program is based on a curriculum designed by Capers, one of the school’s security officers.
McLaughlin saw the program as a way to show that a resource officer’s role isn’t simply to punish, but to educate students about changing their lives.
“Building relationships with these students is what fuels me on a daily basis,” McLaughlin said.
The program is designed to hold students accountable for showing up as well as for participating.
Students receive copies of “Breaking the Limits,” a motivational book written by Capers. They also participate in volunteer projects, such as helping with the Run the D.O.G. St. 5K in April, according to McLaughlin.
“What we are looking to do is change the person,” Jefferson said. “We want to touch your life. We want to hold your heart.”
The heart of a mentor
For Capers, the program helps him bond with students and show them how hard work and dedication can lead to becoming a successful man, both professionally and in character. Each of the three men are independent business owners in addition to working at Lafayette, and Capers is also the author of nine books.
“If anyone is thinking about becoming a mentor, they need to really search themselves,” Capers said. “Because other lives are attached to you and you can make a person feel like a million bucks or you could cause some serious damage.”
All three men take their roles seriously. After one student was not allowed on school premises anymore, Jefferson continued to meet with the student and provide guidance.
“We want to let them know, ‘Hey, man we still care about you. We still love you and want you to be successful. Just because you made one mistake doesn’t define who you are,’” Jefferson said.
Spreading the word
In February, the program received an Innovative Learning Grant from the WJCC Schools Foundation, which awards up to $2,000 to applicants employed by the school district who’ve developed support services for students, according to the foundation’s website.
Capers hopes to spread the program to other schools and develop a curriculum for younger students.
“We want this in as many schools as possible,” Jefferson said. “We are passionate about this. This is not something that we do. This is who we are.”