All the KINGS Men: Peer Mentoring at Building 21 Philadelphia
All the KINGS Men: Peer Mentoring at Building 21 Philadelphia
Faced with his students’ needs, young people of color needing supports in school that go beyond academics, Kevin Gold started something – a weekly lunch group for four young men.
It was simple; they met for lunch, shared their stories, their challenges. They went deep, talked about being targeted in school, feeling like people were out to get them and they didn’t belong. They found peace in each other’s company and soon saw the bonds created in this safe forum impact their engagement in school. This was the start of All the KINGS Men.
Call it divine intervention, the sweet subconscious recall of a childhood nursery rhyme. One day, All the KINGS Men came to Kevin as the name for a larger, mentorship initiative.
I created All the KINGS Men out of pure desire to find something more concrete, something that would address the needs of young boys of color while in a school setting.
The program seeks to focus on the areas of personal growth and development, academics, and behavioral support.
The benefits of mentoring are well documented.
Mentor: The National Mentoring Project tells us that “mentoring, at its core, guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter.”
Studies reveal a multitude of positive impacts on youth, who meet regularly with their mentors, especially youth who face an opportunity gap, including:
46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking. (Public/Private Ventures study of Big Brothers Big Sisters)
52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class. (Public/Private Ventures Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters)
Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor. (The Mentoring Effect, 2014)
Building 21 Philadelphia is a hub for All the KINGS Men, with 15-20 peer mentors and 9th grade mentees participating each year. Kevin works as Building 21 Philadelphia’s Partnership Manager and All the KINGS Men is one of the programs he coordinates to increase student engagement and real-world exposure. In selecting the student participants, Kevin solicits referrals from teachers and staff. From this pool, mentees are selected for the program based on their academic and social needs and willingness to engage in personal growth and development. A growth mindset (or openness towards developing a growth mindset) is a must.
Mentors are often “returners” to the program; this time around, they’re upperclassmen taking on a new role in support of their younger peers. In many cases, mentors were mentees as 9th graders themselves. They too must display a growth mindset, plus a strong commitment to the program requirements, and an unwavering belief in the power of relationships.
Once mentors and mentees are secured, Kevin holds an initial meeting introducing the program, celebrating the students’ selection, and reviewing the expectations.
“I then allow them the space to get to know each other.”
Kevin watches the interactions closely; after observing, he pairs the 9th graders with an upperclassman, who best matches in personality and approach to school.
In addition to the weekly group sessions, mentors are expected to check in with their mentees at least twice per week. During the group sessions, Kevin facilitates “grows and glows” check-ins, when students share their evolving strengths and areas for growth.
Known in this setting as “Uncle Kev”, he is an adult mentor for all.
Recently, a Building 21 Philadelphia grad reflected on his relationship with Kevin:
Our first conversation ever was when I got kicked out of class for disruptive behavior. I was placed in a group [session] you were already conducting with two upperclassmen. As soon as I entered the room, I could feel the honesty in the conversation and the genuine care you had for the way we were thinking.
At this time in my life, I was going through a lot at home and in school; growing up in Philadelphia without any role models or guidance/support system can be challenging. The “street” life had already [taken] over my mindset and way of thinking. I didn’t care about what I said or who I said it to. Fast forward a few months and I was already being taken under your wing. Starting my 11th grade year, I was calling you my mentor [and] big brother because I felt like you always had and still have nothing but the best intentions and goals for me.
You knew what I was capable of before I did.
Kevin will tell you, All the KINGS Men is not a solo effort.
The Building 21 Philadelphia culture team, made up of school-based social workers and behavioral health staff, supports the group wholeheartedly. Kevin and this team work closely to ensure that the group’s expectations and requirements work hand-in-hand with school systems that support students. In addition to making referrals and recommendations for the group, teachers and staff can check in with Kevin and work in collaboration to support his mentees and mentors.
When asked about a moment of pride, Kevin talks about an inaugural scholarship awarded this past June to a member of the graduating class of 2019. A mentor was nominated by the mentees and other mentors and selected to receive a $500 All the KINGS Men scholarship. “I’ve seen drastic changes in behavior from both the mentees and mentors. I have boys telling me how the program gives them much to look forward to in school and that they hope to always be apart of the program.”
When asked about impact, one student reflects:
My life completely changed from being a ‘Bebe kid’ to being on the front of the newspaper for being a role model senior, who was now mentoring 9th grade boys with the same story as me.
I never had the vision of seeing myself even applying for college. I thought [that] after high school I was destined for the block. [Kevin] helped me through the toughest times in my life.
I’m the man I am today because of [mentorship] and I appreciate everything [Kevin has] done for me greatly.
Kevin hopes to grow All the KINGS Men, both within Building 21 Philadelphia and beyond. He recently presented the program model at our Summer Design Institutethis past July.