CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Dawson Elementary School 5th grader Malyke Johnson sat at a table with his friends, excitedly awaiting Empower Hour.
It is a weekly, hour-long program aiming to help students connect with other students outside their friend zone to prepare them for middle school.
He talked about video games and TV shows with his friends.
He said he’s gotten to know them better through the program, learning new things like how to tie a tie, and how to shake a hand properly.
“In my little group that I have, I have gotten to know all my friends better,” Johnson said.
The program has a different lesson each week.
In the past, they’ve had a lesson on trust and this week’s lesson was about peer pressure and how to set a good example.
Program leaders said the program’s goal is to prepare them to be a man.
“Being a man, or a boy. or a male figure is more complicated than anybody thinks,” Johnson said, noting how he would take that lesson on to middle school.
Each of the 20 students in the program were chosen by their teachers, who they felt may have needed a little more guidance by a positive male role model in the community.
De’marcus Brailey is also one of the fifth graders in the program.
He enjoys the activities each week and said because of the program, he’ll find it easier to make friends in middle school.
He said having a positive role model from the community has helped him connect with students in the program.
“There was a football coach from Miller and he taught us where sometimes you have to trust people you don’t know because you never know when you’re going to need it,” Brailey said.
Each week, a different mentor from the community teaches the boys a self-esteem lesson.
This week, it was Coach Corky Gallegos, a softball coach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi who taught them about peer pressure.
He said he remembers beginning middle school and remembering it can be tough for students to introduce themselves to a new circle of kids.
He’s hoping to teach students to put themselves out there more.
“Peer pressure has a negative connotation, but I think that it should have the other side of it, the positive side, that you can pressure someone to do the right thing,” Gallegos said.
Regina Alonzo is the school’s counselor who started the program.
She’s hoping students will take what they learn in the class into middle school and said she has already noticed students are breaking out of their usual circles.
“You can definitely tell some kids that were really shy in the beginning, kind of timid and now they’re starting to come out of their shell,” Alonzo said.
Johnson said he’s already becoming more empowered by the program.
“It’s very special because the people that come here are chosen specifically so it makes them feel special,” he said.
Last month, the program focused on female students. Dawson Elementary is hoping to expand and continue the program next year.