Local Boys Help Each Other Grow in “The Gent Way” Through Tacoma Gents
With a stack of pepperoni pizzas sitting on the cafeteria table in front of them, a group of boys from Tacoma’s Birney Elementary School waited patiently while two other boys meticulously counted out the number of pieces available. Then, the young men of the Tacoma Gents after school program worked together to evenly distribute the slices to one another, and also to students and adults from another group who shares their meeting room.
Jahmad Canley watched the boys with pride, “Normally 8-10 boys around pizza isn’t an orderly conversation, but they’ve learned to listen and trust each other. They started taking turns on who gets to decide because they know that whoever decides is going to be looking out for everyone’s best interest.”
The lessons they learned from sharing pizza is just a slice of what these boys have experienced through Tacoma Gents this year. The program is designed to teach young men the skills they need to thrive “from the classroom to the boardroom” with weekly sessions focusing on topics such as leadership, accountability, image, financial literacy, conflict management, vulnerability, and respecting women.
“We understand that all of this is already in them,” says Jahmad, “but if adults don’t take the time to help prime it and bring it to the surface, we may not see it.”
Birney Elementary Principal, Ronel Balatbat, who also serves as one of the Tacoma Gents mentors alongside Canley and Brandon Ervin, says he has seen tremendous growth in all the boys. “It started off with surface-level things like wearing the shirts and ties and then it transferred into behaviors and the way they carry themselves.”
From being more engaged leaders in the classroom to breaking up fights on the playground, making lunches for the local homeless shelter, and putting up signs around the building reminding their fellow students to keep the school clean, Ronel says the Gents have built on the positive changes they’ve made for themselves by helping make positive changes in their school and community as well.
When asked what being a “Gent” means to them, true to form, the boys took turns sharing their thoughts:
“It means being responsible, respectful, neat, thoughtful, a leader, encouraging.”
“It’s not only just being a leader in school; but being a leader wherever you go so people know they can trust you.”
“I think it’s also about taking a stand and standing up to bullies. Gents helps us have more courage to stand up for what’s right.”
“We are our brother’s keeper and that means we look out for each other and help people when they need it.”
Tacoma Gents is one of 24 organizations currently offering Expanded Learning Opportunities through the Tacoma Whole Child partnership. Students at 12 Elementary Schools in Tacoma now have access to Expanded Learning Opportunities like Tacoma Gents through this community-wide effort to ensure every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Tacoma Public Schools, and numerous community partners are working together to expand this partnership by providing aligned, equitable, high quality social, emotional, and academic development opportunities to students in and out of school.
To learn more about increasing Expanded Learning Opportunities for Tacoma youth, contact GTCF for ways to support programming.