Young men at Coleman Junior High lined up in their most elegant attire across from some of Waxahachie’s finest male professionals on Tuesday.
Each student came from a different background and had their own story about what influenced them to join the Original Gentlemen club.
When instructed to do so, the Waxahachie businessmen took a few steps toward one of 29 Original Gentlemen and taught them one of the many aspects of success — dressing the part. Even though some adults struggled to do so, one by one they taught the young men to tie a tie.
Ryan Essl established the OG club initially as a guidance group at Wedgeworth Elementary, where she spent the past 14 years of her career. Essl transferred to Coleman this school year as a seventh-grade English teacher and also teaches eighth-grade gifted-and-talented courses.
“Seven of the eight original members are here now in the group,” Essl noted. “There were two or three of them that I’ve been watching since they were in first-grade. They were getting in trouble and had different home issues, and I would check on them every single day and give them a hug.”
Essl explained the program had to be capped, even though several other students were interested. The smaller group model was essential for the young men to open up during small group and share struggles. The club serves as a platform to support and hold another accountable.
The mission behind the OGs is to provide positive attention, teach respect, keep the young men focused on their future and not the issues that middle school produces, learning about interests in career fields, making plans for after graduation, goal setting and developing new interests.
The group goes on field trips, listens to guest speakers, and toured the high school where they were fed at The Reservation to exercise their etiquette and manors.
Essl mentioned the majority of the students in the program are considered to be at-risk. According to the Texas Education Agency, an individual that would be classified as an at-risk student has a higher potential to drop out, have failed a grade, has not been successful on a STAAR test, is homeless, has behavior issues that prevent them from being in class, is pregnant or is a parent, has been placed in alternative education such as DEAP, is currently on parole or probation.
Waxahachie ISD School Board President Dusty Autrey was one of 23 local professionals to partake in Tuesday night’s event.
“One of the main things that stood out for me was how vulnerable some of these kids are at falling through the cracks of society,” Autrey shared.
Autrey was observed in the Coleman cafeteria during the networking portion of the event speaking to the only two eighth-grade students about opportunities to advance their leadership skills in the FFA. Autrey carried on conversations with the OGs about career paths, making good decisions and that bad ones do not define a person’s future.
“I absolutely think this should be on every campus,” Autrey advocated.
The club impacts each student, including Louis Salinas, a sixth-grade student who is in his second year of the program. He was interested in the program because he hoped it would help him with his struggles — “and it has.”
When he explained a life struggle that he overcame positively, he said, “My father wasn’t always there for me, and I have had to think in a more positive way. He wasn’t a very good person. Thinking about being the opposite of him helped me overcome the issue I had.”
Salinas expressed the small group discussion about daily issues helps, as well as, hearing what his peers are going through as well.
The positive interactions with the adults were helpful, and he even joked that it made him feel better knowing that not everyone knew how to tie a tie. One adult that stood out to him was Vance Hinds, an Ellis County assistant district attorney.
After the networking portion of the event, the men and students continued conversations over lasagna. Hinds noted it was Salinas who politely asked him to join him at his table. Hinds said Salinas, as well as the other boys at the table, inquired about the legal and criminal cases. Hinds brought up a 2017 Waxahachie murder trial and said, “If you’re the one involved in a crime where someone gets shot their actions fall over onto you.”
Salinas added, “One thing I’ve learned is that if you have a record, it follows you for the rest of your life. I never knew that. I thought once you were 18 or 17, it goes away and starts over.”
Salinas said his primary goal right now is to graduate and he is focused on turning in his assignments on time and keeping his grades up. In the meantime, he is getting a better vision about his future after high school and communicated an interest in engineering.
Seventh-grade student Zachary Pearrow is a left-handed baseball player that recently picked up an interest in music and learned to play the saxophone.
“I’ve gotten a lot out of it," Pearrow stressed. "I’ve learned how to tie a tie. It also taught me how I act around adults.”
Pearrow feels comfortable around adults but is able to advance his skills with the OGs. He admitted speaking with esteemed community businessmen in one setting was slightly intimidating, but within the first-hand shake, it was smooth sailing.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450