JaQuez Gilliard and students

JaQuez Gilliard, a Claflin senior middle level education major, mentors students while completing his professional clinical experience at Howard Middle School. Pictured, from left, Jahlon Johnson, Harold Hillard, Gilliard, Freddie Byrd and Kaimoni Thomas.

PRINCESS WILLIAMS/T&D

“They need me, and I need them,” says JaQuez Gilliard, a senior middle level education major at Claflin University. Gilliard puts his mind, compassion and heart into teaching.

While earning his hours of professional clinical experience as a student-teacher at Howard Middle School, the Eutawville native has created a male mentorship group with five middle school students.

Gilliard spends every weekday, from 7:20 a.m. until 4 p.m. and sometimes later than that, at Howard.

The 22-year-old has completed eight out of his required 12 weeks as a student-teacher.

“My duties as a student-teacher are to plan effectively and teach these students. I actually take on the role as their teacher. I do everything a regular teacher does,” Gilliard said.

He said he was inspired to teach by his math teacher in ninth grade, Bessie H. Byrd of Orangeburg, and his 10th grade math teacher, the late Emma White of Holly Hill.

“Student teaching is about building me — making me a professional. When I do become officially certified, I’ll be ready when it’s time for me to step into my own classroom,” Gilliard said.

At Howard, he’s worked under the leadership of Santanya McClary, a seventh-grade math teacher, and is currently working under seventh-grade social studies teacher Darlene Dunmore.

Gilliard says he started the male mentorship program because he wanted to find a way to give back to the community.

“The purpose of the male mentorship program is to give these students some type of guidance, show them support, show them some love from a faculty member at the school and to let them know that I believe in them,” he said.

“I want them to have a great future,” Gilliard added.

Although he created the program only about two weeks ago, the students say they are already noticing a positive difference in themselves.

Harold Hilliard, a 12-year-old sixth grader from Orangeburg, says since the mentorship program began, he’s learned that he is not alone.

“My friends can be by my side when I’m down,” Hilliard said. “This program helps us talk about our problems and makes us feel better.”

During mentorship meetings, the students write down their problems and express them to each other.

Their usual activities consist of writing exercises with daily reflections.

Gilliard says he often asks students to “free write” because it gives them the opportunity to be creative.

“A lot of these students have some talents that are untapped so I want to see what they can bring forth for themselves as well,” he said.

“Whenever we write, I ask them to present it to us as a group. That helps them build their public speaking skills as well,” Gilliard noted.

“I want to build them all around. I want to build them as men because they need to know how to communicate effectively,” he said.

Gilliard spends quality time with the students by watching movies with them after school and taking them out for pizza.

“We not only do academic work, but we also have fun,” he said.

Kaimoni Thomas, a 12-year-old sixth grader from Orangeburg, says Gilliard tutored him years before the mentorship program was started.

“From this program, I’ve learned that I can trust other people,” Thomas said. “I also learned that someone will always have your back.”

Thomas says he now trusts people more easily.

Jahlon Johnson, an 11-year-old sixth grader, said he was once a “bad bully,” but since the mentoring program, he realizes that is not the way to be.

Johnson recalls an interactive exercise that Gilliard did with each of the mentees titled, “What do I see in me?” The exercise required each of the students to look in a mirror and write down the great things they noticed about themselves.

The young men say students their age face challenges such as bullying/cyber bullying and ridiculing.

Hilliard says he now knows that he should ignore negative things people have to say about him.

“You should never let them get you down,” he said.

One of his mentees has even come to him to let him know that he was about to get into a fight, Gilliard said.

“My student said, ‘I just need to talk to you. I need to come sit with you if you don’t mind.’” I said, ‘Sure. As long as your teacher says it’s okay, it’s fine with me.’”

The student got his teacher’s approval, calmed himself down and had a better day, Gilliard said.

He says all of his mentees are very good students.

“I see that they’re hard working. They don’t like to give up,” Gailliard said. “Whenever they need assistance, they’re not afraid to ask me for it. I see their self-esteem is getting stronger now since I’ve been working with them.”

His is daily mantra is to “always remain positive,” Gailliard said.

“I come in here and have a smile on my face. I’m ready to work and ready to mentor these students. I’m ready to give my best and my all to everyone when I arrive,” he said.

Upon graduating on May 7, Gilliard will accept a job offer teaching middle school math and then pursue a master’s degree in educational leadership.

He has received four job offers, but has not yet decided which job to take.

“I love teaching. I wanted to make an impact on someone’s life and I also want to be my own boss,” Galliard said.

He has his commercial driver’s license, and plans to start his own transportation business and to own a charter company.

With his graduation day rapidly approaching, he constantly lets the students know that no matter where he is, they’ll always be able to reach him, Gilliard said.

“It’s just not a mentorship thing for Howard,” he said. “it’s a mentorship for life.”

Contact the writer: princess.williams@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5516.

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