Students served doughnuts, life lessons

Published 3:57 pm Wednesday, February 7, 2024

By Michael J. Collins, Bowling Green Daily News

Tyreon Clark passed between lunch tables packed with around 40 male students at Oakland Elementary for a weekly tradition aimed at teaching respect and leadership.

This week, the scent of sugary dough wafted through the air as community leaders like Smiths Grove Police Chief Jason Franks and Warren County Sheriff Patrol Commander Curtis Hargett passed out sweets to eager hands for “Doughnuts with Leaders” day.

Clark is local executive director of Boys to Men, a program tasked with teaching soft skills to the next generation of male students. Clark, who has been with the program for eight years, said they operate in around 13 local schools.

After eating, students picked up brushes and got to work painting paper ties as leaders discussed goals for the future and the behaviors that can help achieve them.

Clark said there’s a wide variety of lessons they hope students walk away with.

“Treat people the way you want to be treated, be committed to your dreams, your goals, your aspirations, and strive to have integrity,” Clark said.

At the start of the event, Clark reminded students of skills learned throughout the year: eye contact, caring for others, teamwork, responsibility, taking time to do what matters.

Sarah Carnes, Oakland Elementary’s family resource center coordinator, helps keep students accountable between Boys to Men sessions. If a student runs into behavioral or academic issues during school, she and Clark can personally intervene to remind them of expectations.

“(Students) are still in a very delicate time, (they) are still learning how to navigate peers and social situations, so we focus a lot on that and how to be respectful of our teachers and how to be a good leader in the classroom,” Carnes said.

Carnes said the personalized approach to behavior and growth helps students understand consequences and accountability better than simply punishing those who act out.

“We’re hoping to build on positive reinforcement to decrease those negative behaviors,” Carnes said.

Clark said his role is that of a “journeyman” rather than a mentor to students, adding the benefits of the program go both ways.

“Mentors pretend to be perfect, feel like they have to show up and do all particular things,” Clark said. “But as journeymen, we show up and meet them on their journey. Sometimes they make us better, sometimes we make them better.”