KILLEEN, Texas — It is often said that every person needs to be valued. That is exactly what the Killeen Independent School District is trying to do to ensure that every student has a chance at succeeding. For 57% of its students who are considered at risk, the district is asking the community's help in finding KISD mentors.
Antwoin Brown-Danner admits he is a work in progress. The Killeen Elementary fifth grader is trying his best to make better choices.
"When somebody gets on your nerves or something you are so quick to react instead of thinking before,” said Brown-Danner. “Sometimes I do it, but sometimes not."
On Tuesdays, Brown-Danner and his friends meet with a group of Killeen ISD community mentors to talk about school, life issues and good decision making.
"They are a good influence because they talk to you about your life, see what bad mistakes you made and they help you not make those mistakes again,” said Brown-Danner.
Kevin Conner is a member of the Omicron Pi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, incorporated in Killeen. Conner and his fraternity brothers are active duty and retired Army soldiers. They work with students like Brown-Danner to build trust and help change behaviors.
"Often times we look at them as being bad,” said Conner. “I think we use that term too loosely. Unfortunately, when you repeat those things around kids, they behave that way. That is because they are treated that way, but we kind of give them a 'hey it’s alright, I understand.'”
For Killeen Elementary School Principal Tammy Thornhill, representation matters. She said having community mentors in her school is working.
"There's a different sense of pride they have as they are walking through the halls,” said Thornhill. “They are taking on more responsibility for their actions. I think it is putting people in their lives that are outside of the classroom that is being able to impact their learning about life."
January 2022 data from Killeen ISD shows that the district has a total of 45,452 students: 34% are percent are Black, 32% are Hispanic,19% are white; 57% of the entire student population are considered at risk and 63% come from socioeconomic households.
According to Angenet Wilkerson, KISD’s Director for Community Relations, the school district needs mentors on all levels. That's why the district started training community members to come to the schools during their free time to be positive role models.
Justin Hartsfield recently retired from the Army and is a football coach. He attended one of the trainings.
"Mentorship was huge in my upbringing,” said Hartsfield. "I grew up in a single-parent household with a mother who did everything she could to make me the successful man that I am today."
At Manor Middle School, lunch can get a little chaotic. On Fridays, Omega Psi Phi members step in to help teachers keep an eye on kids in the cafeteria.
Quincy Norman said the more the students see them, the more they tend to behave.
“This generation is at a critical point in my opinion,” said Norman. "It is very important for them to understand they have options and decisions, but in order to be successful they have to want to change, want to do good."
Manor Middle School teacher Kevin Townsell is one of the few male African American teachers on campus. He said having other male role models like himself is a plus.
"The kids need to see good role models," he said. "I think it is vital for our community to grow positively. They need to have some type of mentorships."
Mentorships help change lives for kids like Brown-Danner.
"I had a 70 something in math," Brown-Danner said. "Now I am making A's and B's because my teacher gave them my report card. Then they give us math work to help. “I’m getting A's and B's now.”
6 News was also able to visit Gateway High school to talk with counselors about how mentors are having a positive impact on their students. Their interview can be seen below.
To become a community mentor for KISD contact Angie Wilkerson, KISD’s director for community relations at 254-336-1707.
Mentors are required to submit an online volunteer application and pass a background check.
Watch the full interview with Gateway High below.