South Carolina student-athletes have been offering themselves up as mentors to middle school students at Busbee Creative Arts Academy in Cayce throughout the semester. Gamecocks from several different sports have made repeated trips to the school to interact with the sixth through eighth grade students.
“They have been interacting with the students, helping with assignments, or just building peer relationships,” said Auketa Govan. the school counselor at Busbee Creativity Academy. “I feel like it’s really important. A lot of the kids don’t normally get to see college athletes, so they’re impressed when they come in with their (Gamecocks) shirts on. Sometimes they interact by playing or they come in during lunch time when they have some flexible time.”
“I’ve been very impressed with the student-athletes who have come in,” said Beth Brooks, who is the general music teacher and choral director at the school. “They have had an incredible knack of connecting with the kids. As they’re working with them, they have an incredible ability to open up conversations with middle schoolers who are not typically comfortable talking with strangers. I’ve appreciated that opportunity for them to have those mentors with these athletes who aren’t too far from their age.
The interactions can provide several benefits to the young students, including the reinforcement of the idea that education doesn’t have to stop after high school.
“It’s neat to meet a lot of different personalities and figure out how to work with them. ”
“I think the kids are starting to pay more attention to them, and their desire to become something, excel and complete more education,” Brooks said. “A lot of students whose parents didn’t go to college just assume that they’re not going to get to go. This sort of shows them that they can.
“The students sometimes ask what the athletes are doing at school, what their major is, and why they decided to do that. Then the athletes turn around and ask the same type of questions, and it gets them to think about it. Many of them have thought about it, but only because they’ve been told to. A lot of them haven’t really thought about the real-world aspect of a career. Getting the opportunity to communicate with college students about all of the options out there, it lets them see there are more opportunities than they realize.”
“It’s about planting seeds,” Govan said. “Positive seeds. A lot of kids are seeing what they’ve never seen before. A lot of our students don’t know any college students, or they might potentially be first generation college students. The exposure is important. It’s like having a big brother or a big sister to relate to. It absolutely means something to have the athletes come in. You’ll hear some of the kids here say, ‘I want to go to the NFL or the NBA,’ but they don’t realize what’s required to do that. So, it’s exciting when they get to see them.”
The student-athletes have learned how just a little effort can make a difference.
“I’ve just been hanging out with the kids and seeing what they do every day,” said Jack Mahoney, a junior on the baseball team. “It’s fun to be a part of their day a little bit. I remember people coming to see me when I was in middle school, and I thought it was really cool. When I heard about this opportunity, I jumped right on it. It’s great to leave a smile with them. I’ve been laughing with them all morning. It’s neat to meet a lot of different personalities and figure out how to work with them.
“I just talking to them about my experience in college, and I tell them how you still have to work hard and do homework in college. I tell them how much fun it is to go to college.”
“It’s been really good to talk to the kids and help them set some goals,” said Alysia Johnson, a junior on the track and field team. “You’re never too young to start setting goals. I tell them they can do anything if you believe in yourself. I’ve also learned that everyone comes from a different background, and I just try to tell them that you matter. It’s been a good experience. I’ve always loved working with kids. I’ve found that I can motivate and inspire kids, and they help me as well. I can be shy at times, and I’m working on becoming more confident by making myself uncomfortable and doing public speaking and things like that. The next generation is exposed to a lot of things, and sometimes they need us to help keep them on the right track.”
Gamecock student-athletes will continue their presence in the school during the spring semester as well.
“Our goal is to make community service a part of the athletic culture,” said Alanmicheal Harkness, South Carolina’s Coordinator of Student-Athlete Development. “This group is very special because they are encouraging their peers to service. They find that serving is the true essence of leadership.”