Mentoring is defined as “the act or process of helping and giving advice to a younger or less experienced person, especially in a job or at school” (Mentoring, n.d.). The evidence in favor of mentoring is overwhelmingly positive, and the influence of solid mentor-mentee relationships has a lasting impact on everyone involved. One special organization, the P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. Leadership Academy for Girls (PPLA), has witnessed this impact firsthand while maintaining a consistent and engaging presence in Cumberland County for more than 13 years.
The acronym P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. stands for Personal Responsibility for Intellectual Development and Excellence and Positive Action to Change my To-morrow. The program has quietly, yet effectively, served the community with its efforts to improve the lives of girls in grades 3–12 since 2007. Retired educator Dr. Geraldine C. Munn and I started the P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. Leadership Academy for Girls as a partnership between Cumberland County Schools (CCS) and Fayetteville State University. The P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. Leadership Academy for Girls is now a joint mentorship project sponsored by CCS. It promotes excellence, personal responsibility, and intellectual development for approximately 50 young ladies enrolled in select Cumberland County schools at no cost.
Maliyah Matthews, a third-grade participant of the P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. Leadership Academy for Girls, enjoys the learning and speaking opportunities. “I get to express myself and also learn new things, but in a fun way,” she says. “Everyone has something unique about themselves which makes it more fun. P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. has taught me the importance of knowledge and proper manners, to carry myself with pride at all times, and to conduct myself like a young lady.”
PPLA provides a social-emotional platform for its young ladies that opens doors for academic growth and exposure to cultural experiences and promotes the importance of community service. P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. inspires young girls to seize occasions to develop their leadership potential, to make appropriate life choices, and to become positive role models in their schools and communities.
Many of the participants, including Arianna Darden, a recent graduate of Cape Fear High School and one of PPLA’s five graduates this year, have cited their mentors, the adults who are actively engaged in PPLA, as their positive role models and examples of success they wish to emulate. “The most rewarding aspect of my involvement in P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. was the community of young girls and adult female mentors,” she says. “Getting the opportunity to see women, especially women of color, in a positive way truly impacted me the most.”
The mentors, who serve on a volunteer basis, place a premium on their involvement and relationship-building opportunities. “Being a PPLA mentor for the past thirteen years has been a blessing for me,” says Monica H. Carter, principal of Long Hill Elementary School. “It is vitally important for young girls to have consistent female mentors in their lives to help them navigate the years to adult-hood. The mentors connect with our girls through shared experiences by offering affirmation, support, and guidance.” Ms. Carter cites PPLA’s commitment to building and sustaining a family atmosphere through trusting and empowering relationships for both the mentors and mentees.
Meeting regularly on a monthly basis, the P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. Leadership Academy for Girls holds its sessions on the first Saturday of each month at Alger B. Wilkins High School from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. with approximately ten professional adult mentors who engage the young ladies with an array of meaningful experiences. Each year, a new cohort of third-grade students are invited to join the group.
Over the years, the girls have participated in myriad activities including, but not limited to, a summer enrichment program featuring the noted children’s author Dr. Kimberly P. Johnson, book circles, field trips, career awareness presentations, physical fitness, and self-esteem and etiquette seminars. To their delight, the girls were also a part of a debutante ball in past years. Last year, Miss North Carolina 2019 made a surprise visit and shared some of her most inspirational moments with the group.
One of the stronger components of the P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. Leadership Academy for Girls is the singular focus on supporting literary skills and developing students’ ability to express themselves verbally and in written format in a confident manner. Each session presents topics for expository writing and discussion to equip the girls with the skills needed to develop personal resilience and excellence. PPLA mentors and students are able to nurture these skill sets through active reading and dialoguing with each other using a variety of genres. Through the reading program, personal libraries were provided to each PPLA participant. However, due to the challenges of securing consistent funding resources, PPLA has had to pursue alternative outlets to support its literacy initiatives to meet the needs of its ever-growing population.
This program has impacted student outcomes as evidenced by the End of Grade (EOG) and End of Course (EOC) tests. Mentors have seen that not only has enthusiasm increased over the past years among the girls who attend, but also their parents have overwhelmingly expressed their excitement about how P.R.I.D.E. P.A.C.T. has made a difference in the lives of their daughters. That’s what this effort is all about!