Return to Headlines

PHS Launches Mentor Program

December 14, 2021


When Zack Kleypas became the newest principal of Pflugerville High School, he knew one project he definitely wanted to bring with him from Park Crest Middle School – a mentor program for at-risk students. 

Three years ago, Kleypas helped implement a new mentor program at Park Crest, matching students with mentors from the Pflugerville community. The program grew to include more than 50 matched students in the second year of the program, with more students coming forward to ask for a mentor after hearing their classmates and friends rave about their mentors. Seeing their friends improve in the classroom and beyond had an impact on the campus that made other students want to have that extra support.

“I believe all students want to do well at school. However, sometimes their situations both inside and outside of school can make that a constant challenge,” Kleypas said. “The key to helping students through those challenges is having a loving adult who shows up to listen, care and believe in them. Although our teachers and staff are doing that each and every day, for some students, it resonates more coming from someone outside of education. That is where the mentors come in.”

Project JAMII, a Swahili word pronounced “jah-MEE-a” that means “community” and “family,” came into being through the hard work of parent liaison Dr. Luther Baker. Kleypas knew there would be students at PHS who could benefit from a mentor program, so Dr. Baker made the move from Park Crest as well in order to lead Project JAMII at PHS.

Research has shown mentoring to be particularly effective for students of color who face environmental risk factors such as poverty. In this context, JAMII will be explored as one component of the overall remedy to issues and shortfalls of students at PHS. While mentoring has traditionally been geared toward younger students, Baker believes a mentor program for high school students could help unlock the full potential of some Panthers.

“Mentoring this age group holds unrealized potential in serving PHS students. Mentors will be uniquely positioned to help our students navigate through the process transitioning from high school to postsecondary education, work or career training that the JAMII Mentors have done well,” Baker said.

Baker also said his students are the motivation for this program, because he has seen how children respond when they have encouraging adults in their life and wants that for them.

“When adults from the community serve as mentors who reinforce high expectations, students gain another vital source of support,” Baker said. “I grew up within an extended network of supportive adults. I cannot remember any adult ever using the word ‘if’ when discussing my academic future; it was always ‘when you finish college’ and ‘when you become a professional.’ It distressed me that many of the students I have served did not seem to have similarly consistent, nurturing encouragement.”

PHS held its first Project JAMII meeting before Thanksgiving break for mentors to learn about the program and their expectations to help their at-risk mentees.

A high school student can be considered at-risk for any one of 12 indicators by the state. To qualify as a mentee in Project JAMII, a student must meet at least one of these factors. The most common factors impacting at-risk students at Pflugerville High are: students who have been unsuccessful academically, struggle to connect with peers or adults, have difficulties with meeting campus expectations, have challenging home lives or past experiences, or simply students who could benefit from another adult role model checking in on them, setting goals, and, most importantly, ensuring they feel visible and valued.

PHS will begin officially pairing mentors and mentees when students return in January. However, there is a need for more mentors as Kleypas and Baker anticipate the program to grow at PHS like it did at Park Crest. If you are interested in serving as a mentor to an at-risk student at PHS, please contact Luther.Baker@pfisd.net.