When Layne Ryan heard that his son Trevor, a sophomore at Clovis North High School, was asked to be in a 10-week program to help him focus on his education, he was initially apprehensive.
At the time Trevor had a 0.8 GPA, making him ineligible to play on the football team.
“You don’t really want to be told that your child is going to be in this special program, as if it’s a ‘troubled kids’ program. He’s never been in any significant trouble, he had just fallen behind in his work,” Layne said.
But Clovis North’s transition coordinator Tom Shannon and guidance learning specialist Casey Olson sat down with Trevor and his family and explained the brainchild they had just designed.
The Men’s Alliance Program is for students with the potential to excel, but who also have obstacles to overcome and life skills to learn.
“By the time I walked out of the room, I couldn’t help but just respect the educators who aren’t just talking the talk, but really are walking it,” Ryan said. “They’re mentoring these kids. Trevor is a super talented young man, he really is, and it’s nice for someone else to see that.”
Shannon and Olson asked a dozen kids to join the Men’s Alliance Program — which is completely voluntary — in February.
Half turned them down.
“They just weren’t ready to change and that’s kind of what it’s all about,” Shannon said.
As the transition coordinator at Clovis North, Shannon found himself attending a lot of suspension meetings and attendance meetings for certain students.
“It was more of these freshman and sophomore boys and it was about the way that they talk to their parents, behavior instances with talking to females on campus, texting inappropriately, the way that they were handling their teachers … We got tired of it and said we’re going to try to do something about it,” Shannon said.
He and Olson took two days to map out the program, which involves weekly meetings; two Saturday challenges that involve community service and physical, team building exercises; peer mentoring; keeping their grades up and attending class.
“We’ve known of other programs out there, but we needed to create something school-based,” Shannon said.
Beginning on March 2, the six boys who had agreed to enter the program dressed up each Monday in a light blue collared shirt and black tie provided by Fresno Suit Outlet. They met at lunch for group discussions and the occasional guest speaker.
“We talk about … how to react when they get called out by their teacher, how to shake their hand like a man, coping strategies, defense mechanisms, behavior strategies, social strategies, all of those kind of topics,” Shannon said. “And they have to print out a grade report so we’re keeping track of their academics.”
The boys are mandated to have a 95 percent attendance rate and at least a 2.0 GPA to graduate from the program.
“We seek out kids we see a lot of potential in,” Shannon explained. “These are all pretty good kids… they just have challenges that are standing in their way of reaching their full potential.”
Shannon, who is doing his master’s project on the program through Fresno State, is keeping track of the data.
“Last year this group had over 130 referrals and 30 suspensions,” he said. “Once they entered in, the referrals have decreased tremendously along with suspensions.
“One of the students failed five out of the six classes last semester and then he got into the group and only failed one — and he was really disappointed about the one. So it’s really just changing their whole mindset.”
The boys bond through not just the weekly meetings, but also through two Saturday challenges per semester.
Former boxer Jenifer Alcorn hosted the boys for a boot-camp style workout and team-building canoe exercises on the San Joaquin River last semester. Afterward, Alcorn and her husband told the boys what they thought of them based on first impressions, Trevor said.
“Some of us didn’t like what we heard,” he said. “They thought some of us were better than others as far as shaking hands firmly and looking them in the eye.”
After a full day of physical challenges, the boys were treated to dinner and then taken to Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno to perform community service.
“We picked up trash and we said ‘hello, how are you?’ to everyone we saw,” Trevor recalled. “It was different because there’s a lot of homeless people. You kind of see what happens when you get on the wrong track, and we had a talk in the car about that on the way back.”
Last month the boys spent a Saturday morning cleaning up the Fresno State tailgating area after a Friday night game. Then they ventured to the Finegold Day Use Area of the San Joaquin River for some hiking and physical challenges led by Casey Olson, who is also an MMA fighter.
“This group really clicked (that) Saturday and then they were all looking sharp on Monday,” Shannon said. “They start looking forward to it. Two boys from last year who didn’t have to come Saturday wanted to come.”
One success story of many
Everyone pushed to get their grades up, but with a 0.8 GPA to begin with, Trevor may have had to push the hardest.
“He was one of the ones who got above a 2.0 by the end of the program,” said his father, Layne. “The program clearly got him lined up to where he was chasing a goal. He was hunting teachers down to the last day to figure out how to get his grades up.”
Ryan knows his son has the potential to do even better academically.
“There’s nobody celebrating how great a 2.0 or a 2.1 is,” he said. “But the fact that he started at a 0.8 and over the course of nine weeks turned that into above a 2.0 — that is a pretty significant change.”
Trevor said the program definitely motivated him to do better.
“We weren’t used to people checking on us every day, helping us with our grades,” he said. “Before it was like no one other than our parents cared if we failed or not.
“It is embarrassing to say I did have a 0.8 (GPA). Obviously I should’ve never had a GPA that low. But I just wasn’t trying.”
“The program showed us that every single one of us is smart. It’s a matter of applying ourselves to do the work. It’s different getting dressed up on Monday and getting compliments by teachers who never had good things to say about you before. Your self esteem goes up because there are people who notice the small things that we do now.”
Trevor gained eligibility to play football. He plays defense for the Broncos and has dreams of attending University of Florida — “Tim Tebow is my hero,” he said.
Trevor is still in M.A.P. even though he graduated from the program last year. He and other M.A.P. graduates now mentor the new recruits.
Clovis North transition counselor Gary Omi said he likes the mentoring aspect of the program.
“We’ve always talked to the kids about their legacy. When they leave, what do they want to leave behind as their legacy? As they get older, as juniors and seniors, their legacy will be graduating the program, but also helping those younger ones.”
Trevor’s advisors say he’s become an advocate for the program, talking to people about it and encouraging them to join.
“I tell people why I’m dressed up on Monday,” Trevor said. “I guess people tell them it’s a program for bad kids. But I tell them it’s more for kids who needed an extra push.”
Instead of leading the class clowns, he’s learned to lead productively.
Layne Ryan, about his son, Trevor
He also enjoys mentoring the boys who are new to the program this semester.
“I’ve kind of pushed on everyone else to do better,” he said. “When people in the group have problems or if they need help, I’m there for them. If they have homework or family problems, they know they can come to me for anything.”
Each student who goes through the program gets fitted for a suit courtesy of the Fresno Suit Outlet and a donation from the 500 Club in Clovis, plus a plaque and a pin to put on their jacket, Shannon said.
But the speeches that happen during the graduation ceremony prove to the most rewarding aspect.
During the initiation process, the advisors have each boy’s parent write a letter to their son and read it aloud, Shannon said.
“(The letter is) either about how the last few years have made them feel about them, or what they see in them,” he said. “I would say 90 percent of the time there’s a Kleenex coming out of the box. It’s really powerful.”
At the graduation ceremony, the boys are given the opportunity to talk and share their experience with the program, Shannon said.
“So it’s kind of like their letter back to their parents, and they share that in front of all their friends and family,” he said.
“Some of the boys said, ‘You never gave up on us,’” Shannon recalls. “Some of them were very challenging. They were always in trouble. We have some right now. There are some where it would be so easy to say, ‘You know what? I’m done with you.’ But we continue to plug along.”
Beyond Clovis North
Shannon and Olson are collecting scholarship funds to award to graduates in their senior year.
It’s one of many goals they have for M.A.P.
“We’d love to see in the future 50 or 60 boys walking around on Mondays in a shirt and tie and walking into their classroom saying “hello, good morning, how are you?” and just being very polite and proper,” Shannon said.
The program has already spread to other schools.
Gateway High School started its own branch of the Men’s Alliance program this semester and Buchanan High School may start theirs next semester, along with Clovis East High School next year, Shannon said.
His dream is to have a leadership conference where each school’s M.A.P. graduates dress in their shirts and ties and come together to listen to influential male speakers.
Another goal is to pilot a girls program at the junior high level to teach young ladies about respecting themselves and their bodies, gaining confidence and focusing on school and a career path, Shannon said.
“That’s the first question I’m always asked, is why isn’t there a girls program,” he said. “We definitely are looking into one down the line.”
For now, the students in Clovis North’s Men’s Alliance Program are focused on succeeding academically so they can take a field trip this Saturday.
They’ll get to go to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles — if they earn it, Trevor said.
“We have to have a GPA of 2.5 as a group, so we have been making sure everyone has their grades up where they need to be,” he said.
His father is proud of the leadership role Trevor has taken with the group.
“Instead of leading the class clowns, he’s learned to lead productively,” Layne Ryan said.
At the graduation ceremony, Trevor was singled out and awarded for his potential and how he performed during the challenges, Ryan said.
“It was a proud moment to see him be recognized that way, for other people to see the things in him that I already knew about him,” he said of his son. “He doesn’t have it down perfect, but he recognizes what he needs to do and now has the confidence to know that if he buckles down he can get his schoolwork done and his grades up.
“His potential is off the charts, and now there are some people who see that and know that other than the people here in this house.”