SIDNEY, Ohio (WDTN)— A mentoring program for Sidney Middle School students is making a big difference. 

The program started last year with a few dozen fifth graders; it’s now grown to roughly 150 students involved this year. 

The Pearls and Ties program teaches students to make good choices early in life to help set them up for future success. It focuses on a few core values—your word, your name, your team, and new this year, your community. 

“I wanted to do this program because I wanted to learn how to tie a tie and become a man and have manners and stuff,” says sixth grader Leyton Goffena. 

Former teacher and Sidney basketball coach Tom Clark helped start the Pearls and Ties program.

“Program started last school year, second semester as outreach to some trouble I had with fifth and sixth graders,” says Clark. “The difference from when we started to when we finished session-wise was unbelievable. They walked in that first Wednesday in January looking around like they were going to a death march, and by the time April came around, they were coming in, shaking everybody’s hand, wearing their ties all day, not just for the session. Great improvement! We’re planting seeds. We know we’re not going to change lives in seven sessions, but we’re planting seeds.”

The program partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“I think it’s important for students to understand that they have individuals in the community that care about them, and it’s going to empower them to make good choices,” says Beth Royer-DeLong, Program Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Shelby and Darke County. “We offer one-on-one mentoring that’s between adults in the community—or bigs with littles who may be in need or just need that big brother to assist them.” 

Roughly once a month, students sport their pearls and ties and are invited to a special lunch.

“Ties and Guys is basically where there are seven sessions. Each session a new speaker comes in. There’s a different lunch every time, and then the speakers will speak about a different topic every time,” describes sixth grader Liam Bosslet.

For the first session this school year, Tom invited his brother Mike as the first speaker to share his story of his cancer journey. 

“When Tom talked to me about it, I thought what a great way to get the kids when they’re in fifth and sixth grade and establish great core values—your name, your word, your team. Wonderful way to instill those good foundations,” says Mike Clark, a cancer survivor who’s on the Board of Trustees for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “I’ve been part of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as a survivor to give back in 2016 and stayed with them. I’ve been volunteering with them, and some of the good things that have happened in these seven years, I’m going to share with the kids and then talk about ways they can give back as well.” 

The lessons they learn in these sessions prove just as important as what they learn in the classroom. 

“I’ve gotten better at math. Essentially gotten a little bit more help with some of the things I’m bad at. And I get to hang out with people, get some more social skills you know,” smiles sixth grader Carly Nelson. 

“I think one of the biggest things is seeing the confidence. I worked mostly with the Pearls group and seeing that confidence that kind of came with every session and their ability to speak up and ask questions and know that they belong to something and are a part of something,” describes Mandi Croft, the school liaison for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Shelby and Darke County.

Each student has his or her own takeaway from the program. 

“To remember to always be kind,” says sixth grader Annalynn Ludwig.

“Don’t be rude to others,” states sixth grader Kellon Schmiesing. 

“There’s going to be bumps in the road some days and some days will be different than others,” says sixth grader Kenadee Davis.  

In January, a new set of sixth graders and this year’s fifth graders will join the program. 

Big Brothers Big Sisters is always looking for volunteers. Click here to learn more or become involved.