As students settle into their first week at school, Temple Independent School District is asking local men (and women) to support them by joining the Wildcat Mentor program.
The Wildcat Mentor program matches students with local community members to give the students an extra adult in their lives to talk to and spend time with. Boys are matched with adult men and girls are matched with women. Right now, the program still needs 16 men and seven women to sign up.
Robert Magana began volunteering as a mentor last school year. He met with sixth grader Sylvester Bean at lunch to talk about life and the lessons he learned from his own youth.
“He and I met each other for the first time at the Back to School Bash at Ralph Wilson, and we clicked really good together, and they asked me would I like to be his mentor,” Magana said. “We only had a half a semester together.”
Magana said volunteering with the program has been a good experience. He tried to help Sylvester work through difficult situations.
“One of the things that I like to do is try to teach them, when you make a mistake, how can we fix it?” he said. “That’s one of the things he and I have been working on all semester.… Instead of blaming other people, what can I do differently?”
Sylvester said he enjoys having a mentor, but he is not excited about starting a new school year.
“It’s fun, and he helps me make better decisions and not get in trouble at school,” he said.
Magana works in government finance at Baylor Scott & White, an organization which has encouraged its employees to volunteer. PDI Software also encourages participation in the program.
Magana decided to sign up when he learned that Wildcat Mentors only meet with students during school hours, a commitment that he felt confident he could meet.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Magana said. “It’s just the commitment part of it that I was afraid of.… I have a special needs son and I coach soccer too, so that commitment outside of school I was afraid of, that I couldn’t be committed to that kid and I didn’t want to let that kid down.”
When he found out that program asks for at least two lunch visits a month, Magana was happy to sign up. And when his family and other commitments allow, he tried to see Sylvester for two lunches a week rather than sticking to just the minimum.
Magana is Sylvester’s second mentor. The first one had to leave the program abruptly.
“He told me that he was going to be there,” Sylvester said. “Then the next day the principal tells me he’s not going to be there. I was mad.”
Magana said he tries to consistently call the school and ask them to let Sylvester know if he has to miss a lunch because of work commitments, or if his son requires hospitalization.
“He needs me to be a part of (life) just as much as my son needs me, and that’s the way I look at it, because I made a promise to him,” Magana said. “If we let them down then we just pushed them down the wrong path.”
Magana said he tries to talk to Sylvester about his past and how his choices as a teenager affected his life.
“I … try to teach him hey, I made these mistakes, and this is where it took me, but now look where I’m at,” he said. “By the time I was 15 years old I already had two felonies and a Class B misdemeanor, and I hung around with bad people and I made bad decisions. If I kept going down that road I wouldn’t be here today.”
Magana was able to turn his life around after he realized how much his mistakes hurt his family and his high school career.
“I saw my mom cry too many times; I was hurting my family, hurting myself,” he said. “What woke me up was I got kicked out of high school and I saw my friends doing spring football, and I was watching them. And I was just as good as them.”
Magana also said he realized he really wanted a life that would allow him to help kids.
“I can’t help a kid from a prisons cell,” he said. “And that’s what I tell him. I made the wrong decisions, and I learned the hard way, but you can still come back.”
Magana also shares his struggles with his son’s health problems. But it’s not all serious life lessons.
“We talk about video games sometimes, or Pokemon cards,” Magana said. “We also talk about soccer — he wanted to know why my hair was died purple.”
Magana had promised his soccer team the opportunity to dye his hair if they managed to stay undefeated for a whole season.
“I let them pick the colors they wanted and I let them dye it,” he said. “It was pretty crazy for about two weeks.”
Sylvester’s mother, Teresa Taplin, said that the program has been good for her son.
“His dad has been absent since before he was born,” Taplin said. “I thought it would be a good idea to have somebody to guide him in the right direction.”
Taplin said her son has benefited from having a new male role model in his life.
“It’s going to make him be a better person,” she said. “He enjoys the program, and I think it will make him want to (volunteer) in the program once he’s old enough to be a mentor.”
When Sylvester gets older he hopes to play basketball, and when he grows up he wants to be a police officer.
“It’s been rewarding,” Taplin said. “There’s certain things that he’s not comfortable speaking with me about that sometimes he would like to speak to a male about — that helps a lot.
Sylvester said the most fun thing he has done with his mentor is go to the Lion’s Junction Family Water Park, where the program had its end-of-year party in the spring.
Wildcat Mentors commit to having lunch with their mentees at least twice a month. Usually the program hosts a couple of events during the school year for participants to engage in other activities, such as playing games or hanging out at a water park.
Nichole Riley, TISD’s student intervention coordinator, said the program has enough mentors for the middle schools but is looking for more volunteers for fifth-graders.
“They are recruiting at different businesses and different clubs,” Riley said. “The Wildcat Mentor board members, they recruit people from their jobs and their churches.”