WENDELL — Practicality prevailed when an East Wake High School coach realized some of his football players take weightlifting as their final class of the day, only to turn around and hit the weight room again after school.
Jamie Lemmond, a social studies teacher who coaches football and track, found a better use of his student-athletes’ time. On seven Thursdays since March, they’ve spent the last period of the school day mentoring fourth graders at Wendell Elementary School rather than doubling down on buffing up.
“Experiential learning is the first part. The other part is servant leadership,” said Lemmond, who joins the players for the mentoring sessions during his planning period. “Our kids are learning to lead.
“They have to go and serve these kids. It’s hard. It kind of wears on them a little bit, and they have to be on top of their game to not let these kids run over them.”
The group of Warriors followed a typical mentoring schedule Thursday, spending the first half their time with the elementary students on an outdoor teamwork activity. They spent the second half of the session in the school library, where the younger students read to the jersey-clad football players.
Relying on others
Wendell Elementary counselor Emily Mooney said the outdoor activities have helped her students learn the world needs both leaders and followers, and how to handle aggression.
“These are things we want them to get a handle on before they leave us and go on to middle school and high school and become young adults,” she said. “The football players are teaching them a lot about working together and the importance of being able to rely on others.”
The presence of the high schoolers has also had a positive impact on the fourth graders’ reading, according to Mooney.
As part of the Wendell Elementary’s literacy strategy, called the Daily 5, students are required to read to their classmates. Mooney said few things could enforce the importance of reading more than a group of high school football players wanting to listen.
“The first day the guys showed up in their jerseys, it really hit home for our students and made them feel so important,” she said.
That message was an easy sell to fourth grader Ethan Agosta, who wants to be a football player. He spent the second half of Thursday’s session reading to East Wake linebacker Nick Sanders.
“I really like football, so seeing actual football players is really fun,” Agosta said. “And if I make a mistake (reading), he’s going to help me.”
Agosta added that during the outdoor session he learned teamwork always helps and that a person can’t expect to accomplish everything on their own.
Lessons for teachers
Connor Earp, also a linebacker for the Warriors, said the elementary students are teaching him and his teammates in some ways.
“They’re showing us what it’s like to look up to somebody, and we look forward to going, too,” Earp said. “When we get to school, we’re like, ‘Hey, it’s Thursday – we get to go today.’ We just love doing it because we love the kids and they reach out to us.”
This isn’t the first time Lemmond has led students outside the classroom for lessons on life. He’s taken students on trips to volunteer with Special Olympics athletes several times in recent years. And in January he led a group of psychology students through Wendell, where they were either blindfolded or confined to a wheelchair to feel first-hand what it is like to navigate outdoors from the perspective of a person who is physically impaired.
“Every time we go, he gives us different lessons – not just for the kids, but for us too,” East Wake star running back Damontay Rhem said of the mentoring sessions. “It lets us know there (are) little kids that look up to us, so we’ve all got to do the right things regardless.”
Lemmond said responses like that show an added virtue of having his players interact with the young students.
“Damontay Rhem is going to have plenty of people give him adulation,” Lemmond said. “But to go humble himself and sit next to a kid and help him read, that’s what really matters. It’s that servant leadership of, ‘I’m going to be next to you, but we’re doing this together.’”