About once a week, Jervis Daley goes to Congress Middle School in Florida and spends time reading with 13-year-old student James Smith.
But it's not a normal mentoring program. Daley is a Boynton Beach police officer, taking part in a program called Boys and Blue that's designed to bridge whatever division there might be between police and children.
The idea came from Shannon Grice, Congress' eighth-grade assistant principal. Her 9-year-old son recently had questions about what he was seeing in the news — police shooting young men and people shooting police officers.
"One of the main questions was why was this happening. It was a very confusing time for him," Grice said.
Grice also thought about her students. She worried about their safety, and the choices they'd make. She thought of a program she's familiar with in Michigan, where anyone could come and help students read. But she put her own spin on it. She wanted only police officers involved, and only ones in Boynton Beach.
"Because those are the people our students are going to see outside and in the streets," she said. "I want them to have somebody in law enforcement that they can go to and they can trust."
Grice reached out to Boynton Beach police near the beginning of the school year, and Capt. Mike Johnson immediately volunteered. Johnson handpicked about a dozen officers to be paired with students who were specifically chosen based on a need for extra guidance, Grice said.
Getting to know each other
So now, Daley and James sit near the assistant principal's office and read Scholastic magazine articles aloud to each other and they get to know each other.
When James stumbles upon a word such as "environmental," Daley encourages him to sound out the letters so he can pronounce it. And when James doesn't know what "advocates" means, Daley is there to define it. The two also talk about how they spent Thanksgiving, their love for PlayStation (they both think they can beat each other), and the importance of behaving in school. James knows that he can call Daley anytime for help.
The officer, who has worked in Boynton for about a year, does this on his own time. He does it just so the eighth-grader knows he has another person, a police officer at that, on his side.
"I know when I was younger it would have been great to have something like this," Daley said recently after a meeting with James. "I really want to give it all I got."
The mentoring group hopes to travel to Miami for a Heat game, and also hopes to have a holiday luncheon for the officers, the children, and their parents on Dec. 21. But since the program isn't paid for, the group is hoping local businesses can sponsor the lunch and tickets to a sports event.
Grice said the boys in the program look forward to meeting with their officers. And Johnson said all the officers are committed to making the program a success.
"We really need to be committed to our youth. The decisions they make now will impact the rest of their lives," said Johnson, who has worked at the department more than 11 years. "If we can change the life of even one child, we've been really successful."