TCU students mentor eighth graders through leadership program

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Fort Worth eighth graders can find leadership and mentors at TCU.

LeaderKids is in its 20th year of making an impact on TCU’s campus. From serving five Fort Worth ISD middle schools in 1994 to 23 today, Leaderkids is having a unique impact on its students.

The organization is offered through Leadership Fort Worth, an adult community group, along with the TCU Leadership Center. It partners eighth grade Fort Worth ISD students with TCU mentors to teach students about being leaders in their communities.

“In the current environment in the public school system, the highest dropout rate in high school occurs in the ninth grade,” said Meriam Harris, volunteer executive director of LeaderKids Fort Worth. “So we really thought we were unusually predictive to get ahead of that curve and grab these kids while they were in eighth grade to encourage them to invest in themselves and their community so they would have a vision for themselves when they got to high school.”

Harris is a member of Leadership Fort Worth and has been with LeaderKids for the past 20 years.

“TCU has been a great partner of the Leadership Fort Worth program and the LeaderKids program,” Harris said. “The Leadership Center in the student union building has provided us a student mentor director and a staff director every year who has brought these students who fill a very important role.”

LeaderKids co-director Maddie Blagg said the time commitment to be a LeaderKids mentor is relatively small. She said it requires just four hours one Tuesday every month to mentor these students around Fort Worth.

“The eighth graders think that TCU students are super cool,” said Harris. “They are furthering their education and participating in a leadership volunteer activity. They are setting an example for our students that can’t be overstated.”

Mentors take the middle schoolers to new and different places in the city to expose them to people and ideas. Places like City Hall and Tarrant County Public Health show students places to get involved in the community after high school.

Maurilio Castorena, co-director of LeaderKids, said, “you get exposure in a way that not a lot of other organizations offer.”

Blagg said Leaderkids helps students “realize their full potential” to help them become responsible and ethical leaders in the future. The program uses the five practices of leadership to build up the students it serves.

“We do exercises where we talk about modeling the way, encouraging a shared vision, encouraging the heart, challenging the process and enabling others to act,” said Harris. “A leader doesn’t do it all. A joint idea always is more effective than a singular idea.”

Blagg, Harris and Castorena agree that participating in LeaderKids gives back to the TCU student mentors too.

“There are many ways as a college student to learn. You think about learning from your professors, but you can learn from people younger than yourself,” Harris said. “When you explain something or share something with someone younger than yourself, it makes you question and evaluate and kind of distill what you believe about that topic yourself. I think by teaching others what you know, you learn a lot.”

Blagg said she learns something new from the kids “every day.”

“It prompts you to challenge yourself and do the best you can and be the best person that you can be,” Blagg said.

Casterona said Leaderkids is not “a babysitting experience.”

“It is a two-way street,” Casterona said. “The TCU students are getting to push themselves and relate to the other mentees and know they are making a big impact in the life of an eighth grade student.”

The TCU Leadership Center will begin recruiting new mentors for LeaderKids next April. Students interested in leadership opportunities can find many different opportunities available at the Leadership Center.