- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - A mentoring program that’s been in place in Miami-Dade County will be expanding to Jacksonville area schools.

Duval County school district Superintendent Nikolai Vitti made the announcement Tuesday, saying the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project aims to place 500 mentors in 10 middle and high schools this year.

The program will use the mentors to reach 500 male, primarily minority, students between six and 12th grades and is expected to eventually expand to more than 10 schools, The Florida Times-Union (https://bit.ly/1FjdxFm) reported.

Vitti said more than 100 mentors have already signed up and he’s confident they’ll reach the 500 mark by mid-year. Among the mentors are 50 officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

“I can stand in front of you and say my father left when I was very young,” Vitti said. “If it wasn’t for certain coaches and male teachers who got involved in my life, I would not be standing in front of you right now as superintendent… Until certain men got involved in my life and could have certain conversations that only men could have, then I started to turn around.”

A similar program started in Miami-Dade schools some 20 years ago by U.S. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson as an effort to address the problems at-risk minority boys faced.

Paul V. Wilson, the founder’s son, said it didn’t take long for Vitti to sell him on the program.

“We’ve talked a lot about intervening in the lives of young boys and girls in Jacksonville, especially young boys, in Jacksonville,” Wilson said. “That is a long-term solution to our violent crime problem in this community.”

Vitti said the program will cost the district about $80,000 in its first year, which includes the additional field trips, uniforms students will wear once a week, a stipend for the sponsor at each school and a district-level employee to coordinate the efforts.

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Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, https://www.jacksonville.com


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