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Middle school students inspiring and teaching others

Attucks Middle School in Hollywood is changing the way students better themselves, schoolmates and the community.

Last school year, Principal Errol Evans implemented Mentoring Tomorrow's Leaders, a program in which high-achieving students are hand-picked to mentor younger classmates in an effort to improve grades, attendance and community service.

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Evans and MTL coordinator Michael Jean select students as mentors and mentees based on academic and behavioral performance.

The program had about 30 students last school year, and officials hope it continues to grow.

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"It's nice to see how this program has really sold itself," Evans said. "People are seeing these kids as something special. They are ambassadors to their school and community."

Mentors and mentees are required to do community service, meet regularly to discuss homework and classes, and almost all are involved in other school clubs or sports teams. Jean said all the mentors are getting straight A's, and mentees are going from failing to passing grades. Mentors are required to attend leadership training before being assigned to a student.

"The mentees are more accountable to their peers," Jean said. "For some reason, they'd rather listen to each other. And the mentors also have direct communication with students' parents. The parents appreciate us."

Now freshmen at Miramar High School, Reginald Lee Jr. and Michael Jean Jr. were mentors in the program.

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"I learned that I can be great no matter what grade I'm in," Lee said. "No matter what, you've got to keep on trying. They are always going to be people that look up to you. You have to set a good example."

Both said they keep in touch with their former mentees.

"Helping someone else is the prize to being in the program," Jean Jr. said. "You want them to become better and better, and the cycle can keep going. You want mentees to become mentors and fill your shoes."

Attucks recently received a grant from Hollywood and the Broward Education Foundation to help pay for travel expenses and uniforms. The MTL program is being offered in about 20 Broward schools, including South Broward High and Orangebrook Elementary in Hollywood and Olsen Middle in Dania Beach.

"We've become a huge family," Jean said. "This program is building men and women."

Sara Shell can be reached at sshell@tribune.com.

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