Don't be fooled by our unseasonably cool August; the block is hot and so are the nation's classrooms. Several homicides and a police shooting in Durham left us weary. A bookkeeper at an Atlanta elementary school talked a mentally ill gunman out of a massacre. And summer isn't over yet.
That's why Sanders Tate and his congregants at Mount Gilead Baptist Church walk in prayer. They hold hands and beg God to intercede in front of the corner store, in front of a tired dog that rests by a cross for Jose Ocampo. The day before school starts, they gather outside Hillside High, C.C. Spaulding Elementary and Y.E. Smith Elementary schools to ask their Father to protect His children on the buses, in the halls and at home.
Tate has seen the misbehavior patterns that lead to a life of violence in his first, second and third graders at C.C. Spaulding Elementary, where he is the in-school suspension (ISS) coordinator. ISS is designed to keep misbehaving students in the academic loop—as opposed to out-of-school suspension, where they may be at the mercy of the streets.
Tate is also the positive behavior intervention specialist (PBIS) at his school.
"I go from class to class and help students find better ways to deal with their own internal conflict and external conflict with other students, and teach them how to communicate with each other in healthier ways," he says.
He notes that many of the children are hungry for attention or feel they have to act out to prove themselves.
School ends at 4 p.m., but the streets are open all night. That is why Tate started two positive reinforcement programs—one for boys and another for girls—called Students of New Success (S.O.N.S.) and Girls Enthusiastically Motivated for Success (G.E.M.S.), where he acts as a "cheerleader" for achievement. He helps them set short-term and long-term goals and "celebrate those short-term goals together."
Tate describes a fight that occurred the first day back at C.C. Spaulding, involving a young man who ended the last school year in a fight. He worked with the child one-on-one in ISS.
"I was helping him see that it's not the other person. The common denominator in these two fights has been [him]," he says.
Tate wants the boy to learn to respect others and, in turn, respect himself. His future depends on it.
Tate recounts walking with the young man down the hallway by a giant collage of African-American pioneers: Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Thurgood Marshall stared back at him.
"A light bulb went off. He asked, 'Is it possible that I could be one of these people one day? Could my sister be the next president?'"
"I reassured him, Absolutely! You don't have to prove anything to anybody."
For more information about PBIS, S.O.N.S. and G.E.M.S., contact Tate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-308-0531.