SIDNEY, Ohio (WDTN) — A new program to mentor fifth graders at Sidney Middle School is making a big difference. 

It’s called Guys in T.I.E.S. and Girls in P.E.A.R.L.S. and started in January. T.I.E.S. stands for trustworthy, impactful, empowered, and successful. P.E.A.R.L.S. stands for purposeful, empowered, adaptive, respectful, leading, and successful. The program focuses on understanding core values and the importance of making good choices.

The program is the brainchild of former Sidney teacher and basketball coach Tom Clark after wanting to make a change and help shape a younger generation. 

“I didn’t like the way the older fellows acted. They were disrespectful and treated the girls very poorly,” describes Clark. “I did some research, went after 5th grade because they were new to the building. Thought I had a better chance with them. They weren’t hardened yet.”

With the help of Big Brothers Big Sisters, they’re taught lessons outside the classroom, focusing on the importance of their name, their word, and their team.  

“It’s not about the schoolwork. It’s not about grades or anything. It’s about developing the person that they’re becoming,” says Mandi Croft, the school liaison for Big Brothers Big Sisters Darke and Shelby counties.

The program is voluntary and made up of seven sessions. They’re divided into two groups—boys and girls.

“We’re not going to change them in seven sessions but we’re trying to plant seeds,” says Clark. 

Roughly every three weeks, the boys wear collared shirts with ties, and the girls wear pearl necklaces. 

“The uniform makes me more comfortable, and my teacher told me that if you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you do good,” states fifth grade student Gabe Gessler. 

All dressed up, they are served a special lunch. 

“We get candy, and all this food instead of the school lunch. We get to play games and stuff,” says fifth grade student Nolan Bosslet.

The program is about even more than that.

“It’s where you learn how to become a gentleman,” says fifth grade student Drelyn Dillon. 

“An act of random kindness, saying something nice to your mother, keeping your word, working on your reputation,” lists Clark. 

Speakers are invited to talk with the group and share their stories and insights. 

“At the time that we were in school, myself, Derek, and Devin probably could’ve used a program like this,” laughs Ben Ernst, a 2010 Sidney grad.

Ernst and two others were recently invited back to talk with the fifth graders in the program. 

“I think early on kind of having a coach lead the way and set an example, respect, respecting your elders would’ve helped us in school and also our schoolwork and our team sports,” Ernst reflects.

Derek Fink also spoke with the group, detailing his story. 

“My life was a mess. I actually graduated in 1999. I graduated from the county jail. So, I barely made it through. Clearly went down a wrong path. I just feel like I can help these kids not waste 20 years like I did,” says Fink. “I started smoking weed in middle school, and then I got around the wrong guys and I made varsity baseball as a sophomore but outside of that,  I was hanging out with guys that weren’t in any activities. Slowly, that became not a part of my life. I dropped out of school. I dropped out of baseball. Quit the football team. Barely skated by and graduated when I was 19 years old from the county jail. It wasn’t until I was about 24 when I had my third DUI, and honestly God saved my life. And I was really on a bad path, and I just changed it, my whole trajectory of life.”

Fink, opening up about his struggles and showing students the power of making good choices. 

Devon Rickert, a 2010 Sidney grad also offered words of advice to the fifth graders. 

“You can make the wrong decisions but always come back from them if you work hard and put your head down,” says Rickert. “If you pray and focus and set your mind on the right path and become determined, you’ll see the changes.”

Through their stories and experiences, mentors are helping mold the young group. 

“Being a kid right now, I think is just kind of hard in general. The world has changed a lot in the last couple years, and I feel like if I can come in and just be that little bright spot in her week, you know, I just want to do that,” says Dawn Roberts, a mentor for fifth grade student Kaytiana Heatherly. 

“It makes me feel intelligent, and it helps me to know how other people feel so I can help them,” says Heatherly. 

Even after just a few sessions of the program, they’re noticing a difference.

“It makes me feel powerful and confident because I want other people to look up to me,” says fifth grade student Kaydence Barnes.

“I think that’s what they’re trying to do here. Show that you may still be in your little shell, but you’re still able to come out and find who you actually are,” states fifth grade student Carly Nelson. 

The program relies on community support, donations, and volunteer speakers.

“I cannot put into words what impact someone can make in the life of a child,” says Croft. “Letting them see these positive influences at this level is so powerful.”