McNeil student-athletes make a difference as mentors

Every Tuesday morning elementary schools zoned to attend McNeil High School receive visits from McNeil student-athlete mentors. The MavsAreMAD (Making a Difference) mentor program blends the McNeil mascot, the Maverick, with the program’s statement of purpose, to make a difference.

MavsAreMAD began last year with 30 athletes at Pond Springs Elementary School. This year there are 92 student athletes visiting all seven elementary schools, which consist of Brushy Creek, England, Forest North, Jollyville, Live Oak, Pond Springs and Wells Branch, that align to McNeil.

Mentoring student-athletes visit their designated campuses in the morning to meet their mentees when the school doors open at 7:25 a.m. Each elementary school principal assesses student needs and guides the athletes through that day’s activity, which can be opening car doors during student drop-off, providing one-on-one tutoring with math or reading, leading enrichment, supporting a teacher in the classroom or playing games.

“Mentoring isn’t just changing lives of elementary students, it’s changing lives of high schoolers too,” said Steve Vierra, McNeil athletics academic coordinator. “When you take a high school student who maybe isn’t the best student and put them into an environment where they learn they have something to offer a younger student, you see a positive change in both students.”

Student-athlete mentor and junior Ivania Rodriguez plays first base and pitches for the McNeil softball team is considering a career as a counselor. In addition to finding her experience as a mentor personally rewarding, Rodriguez said she sees the opportunity to support the first-grade students in Stephanie Kaynes’ classroom at Brushy Creek Elementary School as a chance for her to help determine the best path to reach her career goal.

“I love helping out the kids and being around them makes me a happier and kinder person,” Rodriguez said. “I want to make a difference, have them pass along kindness and be helpful to others.”

Each week Kaynes’ students celebrate Rodriguez’s arrival. Savannah Wallace, a first-grade student in the class Rodriguez mentors, said she looks forward to seeing her each week and that it makes her feel nice. Rodriguez said the reaction she receives from the elementary students has helped boost her self-confidence.

“The girls in my class enjoy the female athletes,” Kaynes said. “They always hear about the football players, but seeing the female athletes empowers the girl students.”

Student-athlete mentor volunteers are recruited by the McNeil Student Athletic Leadership Council, comprised of two campus representatives from each sport. In the future, Vierra envisions creating a class period for the program.

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