“I didn’t know if I could be as impactful in a school space, but it really has been quite an impactful journey in this short time we’ve been together for this pilot program,” says Will Green, executive director of Mentoring Positives. “I really wanted to get into school-based mentoring. I’ve been able to bring a lot of things I’ve been doing in the community into the school.
“It’s been a joy for me because I’m able to get at the kids that everybody wants to get at,” he adds. “Oftentimes, people want to get at the tough kids, but they don’t come to you. You have to go to them. It’s cool to be doing it in school because I’m a coach/teacher/mentor.
Green is well-known for his youth mentorship nonprofit Mentoring Positives, an innovative, referral-based mentoring program that has worked directly with kids and families in Madison’s neighborhoods and in the community for the past 15 years to grow strong, resilient youth leaders on Madison’s east side.
Since February, Green has been bringing the same central tenants of MP to a pilot program at Madison La Follette where he can consistently work with the kids in a class right at school. Green was already well-known at the school having coached the La Follette girls basketball team for the last three years.
“At every school – it’s not just La Follette – you have these kids who feel disengaged and really struggling in schools. They’re struggling with the math and English and those courses, but they’re also struggling as human beings and as young people and all of the social/emotional things they need to navigate this world,” Green tells Madison365.
This MMSD partnership program at La Follette High School is the first of its kind and works with a cohort of juniors and seniors who are at risk of not graduating on time helping them succeed academically through social and emotional awareness, leadership training, and academic support.
“I host a class of 14-15 students from 12:30-3:45 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday to help credit-deficient students hopefully graduate on time – that would be the ultimate goal,” Green says. “We know there are so many obstacles to get to that point. Basically, I’ve been in there with this core of kids and working through the evidence-based curriculum called the 40 Developmental Assets.
Green lists off areas that he works with the students on including socio-emotional, constructive use of time, family support, and self-identity areas.
“These are some of the areas we’re working with the kids in terms of the curriculum and activities that we do. Then, of course, I get to teach them the social entrepreneurship through the [Mentoring Positives’] Off the Block Salsa and Pizza. There’s a classroom and a kitchen in there where the students can experiment with things, “ Green says speaking of Off the Block Salsa and Off the Block Pizza, a Mentoring Positives social enterprise business where young people build critical skills needed in life through the making and marketing of those delicious products.
In the Mentoring Positives class at La Follette, students can also get help catching up with any schoolwork that they may be behind in.
“We just try to create a more positive culture with kids that are really struggling in the school who are juniors and seniors,” Green says. “They are right there and about to be out into the real world so they have to be ready. We just have to be there for these kids because they aren’t equipped to be out in this world without some guidance, skills and connections.”
The students in the Mentoring Positives class get school credit for taking Green’s class.
“This is about building relationships. We’re always talking about relationships being the key to whatever we do,” Green says. ” I’ve built a solid girls basketball program there [at La Follette]. I know a lot of the kids. It was pretty simple to do and I appreciate the school district allowing us to come in there and help.
“I see some of these kids becoming leaders,” he adds. “They can redirect some of their peers. They have the confidence to do this now.
Green says that “there’s a special ingredient you need to have when you’re working with kids today.”
“It’s about being authentic,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. This is my life’s work. I’m able to navigate these kids when normally situations would blow up.”
“I’m able to get to the heart of things and to help them do what they are really trying to do,” Green adds. “When it comes down to it, kids really need to have a plan. And they need a little help and guidance. Everybody does.”
To celebrate the new class, “Mentoring Positives: Growing Youth Leaders”will take place Wednesday, June 5, 5-7 p.m. at The American Family Spark, 821 E. Washington Ave.
“It’s really a great space up there on the 8th floor with beautiful views including the state Capitol,” Green says. “This event should be a really good time. I’m really trying to get some of those important people in the building. I really want to build out and figure out how we can be a deeper partner in working with the school.”
There will be refreshments provided at this open-house style community event that is free and open to the public. Green says the community will also get a sneak peek at what’s in store for next year, with information about opportunities to engage with and support this important work.
“I really hope people come out for this event … especially people who know us but don’t really know us. I want them to take the time to come out and see what we’re doing and see how they can help us make a positive impact on our schools,” he says.
“This open house will be a chance for the community to learn more about what we do and to meet the kids that will be the future of this city,” Green adds.