A program at White Hall's Taylor Elementary School aimed just at male students is winning the attention of the entire district, and according to Superintendent Larry Smith, could be replicated at other schools.
Called Men in Training or MIT for short, the program was the brainchild of Taylor Principal Tammie Canada, who saw it work at another school in Tennessee when she lived there before taking the job in the White Hall District.
“There it was designed for male students who didn't have a father figure but here it's open to any boy who wants to join,” Canada said.
Last year, in her first year at Taylor, Canada had three male teachers, and currently the school has two, James Moore and Chance Bankhead, who serve as mentors for the students.
“It's about how to conduct themselves around young ladies and how to show respect,” Moore said, adding that the boys involved in the program will go around at lunchtime and ask the girls if they can take their trays and empty them, and will open doors for female students and teachers.
Every Thursday, the boys dress up, wearing shirts and ties, and are treated to various speakers. The Arkansas State Police helicopter and its pilots have paid a visit, as have Assistant Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Assistant Chief Earnest Moore and Lt. Jerry Garganeous, who brought along a fire truck.
One of those who has bought into the program is Wes Booker, an insurance agent in White Hall and a football official in the Southeastern Conference.
“When he's not on the road on Thursday traveling to a game, Booker can frequently be found at Taylor offering moral support.
“I came the first time just as a speaker but was really impressed at how this program is helping young gentlemen become men,” Booker said. “It's about manners and etiquette and becoming leaders, not followers.”
Bankhead said the school also keeps a supply of ties and the like on hand for students who don't have them, and the boys give up their recess on Thursday for the programs.
“I think giving up recess for those programs is really cool,” Canada said.
With the third male teacher who was formerly at Taylor now at Moody Elementary, Smith said the program is creating a positive impact on the young male students and probably will be replicated at Moody in the near future.
As an added treat, the day before Taylor closed for the Christmas holidays, Bankhead and Moore told the male students that if they collected more than 500 cans of food for the White Hall Food Bank, they and some of the female teachers would serve as targets while the students hit them in the face with whipped cream pies.
There was no contest as not only the teachers but White Hall Police Sgt. John Zuber wound up getting pied, much to the delight of a lunchroom full of laughing students.