NEW HAVEN — They range in age from their late teens to their early 70s and come from all walks of life, but they all have a common goal.
“They” are members of the New Haven Elementary School (NHES) Tiger Men, a new program started this year to provide positive male role models to students who might otherwise not experience them.
Principal Walter Raynes said at the beginning of the year, he noticed the lack of positive male role models in many of the students’ lives. With only two male teachers at the school, he said it created a social void with many of the kids.
Raynes started the Tiger Men program, named after the school’s tiger mascot. It consists of a group of a dozen male community members who agreed to come into the school. The group contains local pastors, a deputy sheriff, a retired school teacher, pharmacist, engineer, college nursing student, high school senior, and others.
Raynes said some of the men come on a regular weekly or bi-weekly basis, while others come for special events. They do anything from one-on-one and small group tutoring to conducting hands-on science labs. Sometimes, they just sit and talk to the children while eating lunch, or join them for recess, to provide social interaction.
Confidentiality is stressed to the men participating in the program, and Raynes said the Tiger Men are never left to supervise students in the absence of a teacher, nor do they discipline students.
Gary Fields serves as one of the Tiger Men and is retired after teaching science for over 36 years. He recently went into Charlie Tyree’s fifth grade science classroom to do a hands-on lab while the students were studying plants. Using daffodils, the students learned the plant vascular system.
The children were shown the difference in xylem tissue that transports water to the leaves, and phloem tissue that conducts food from the leaves to all parts of the plant. Using colored water, the students were able to see how the water, and color, were transported into the petals.
Assisted by his granddaughter Mia, Fields also brought the students samples of syrup made from the sap of maple trees.
Fields said he became a part of the program because so many children need a male presence in their lives. He said after teaching in the classroom all those years, he feels as if the area is one big family and everyone should help each other out.
“I like helping kids, and it might help them down the road,” Fields said. “You can feel and see the need for a positive image.”
He said following the lab, he went out onto the playground to interact with the children and was soon approached by a young girl. After learning what he had been there for, and details of the lab, she asked if she could be his “assistant” when he comes back at a later date to do bottle rockets. After telling her yes, he said she soon came back with about five others, who were also hoping to be assistants.
Teacher Ammie Jordan said she feels the program has been great for her first graders. She said she often has one of the men work either with a group of boys or in a mixed small group setting.
“It’s been a very positive experience for the students to receive undivided attention from a male role model,” she added.
Fifth grade math teacher Kira Northup agreed. She recently had two of the Tiger Men in her classroom when she conducted math stations. Northup said it was gratifying for her students as the men cheered them on and gave them “high fives” for positive reinforcement.
Raynes said there are many other stories from both staff and students, all of which have been positive. He added he feels the program is definitely off to a good start and appreciates the men devoting their time to the NHES students.