By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Harding Fine Arts Academy (HFFA) students and staff are taking part in the Rocktown Youth Mentoring program, which enables at-risk students to gain the confidence to face the world with a healthier outlook.
Located at 3333 N. Shartel Avenue in Oklahoma City, HFFA is a public charter and Title I high school. One of several participating metro area schools, the program is particularly beneficial to HFAA, with nearly half of the student body experiencing poverty.
Harding students and mentors meet Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the Rocktown Climbing Gym, a converted grain storage silo near downtown Oklahoma City.
Two-hour climbing sessions begin after a meal and fellowship. All gear, equipment and climbing time is provided by the facility free of charge.
HFAA physics teacher, Brian Havens said, “The meals they get here might be the only balanced meal they get in a week. And it may be the only time outside of the school day that kids can spend time with emotionally stable adults.
“As a teacher, I like the opportunity to mentor kids I work with; the opportunity for social development outside the classroom,” Havens said. “Learning can be a more holistic process when you bring in the community aspect.”
Biology teacher Dr. Daniel Schuerch, has been mentoring HFAA students at Rocktown for six years. “It’s a good tool to help our students be more confident, but it also shows that failure is a part of life. You just get up and do it again.”
Schuerch added, “Now our high school students have gained the confidence to go in and help mentor younger students from other schools.”
HFAA guidance counselor Celestia Stacy helps identify students who could benefit from the program. “There are a variety of familial situations that make a student a good candidate, from kids from a single family home to students who have experienced a lot of trauma in their past,” she said.
“Their involvement is a commitment and the kids are required to participate for the entire semester,” Stacy added. “And most often, the change I see is a sense of belonging in kids who don’t generally want to participate in ‘group’ activities.
Rocktown Youth Mentoring board member, HFAA Principal Barry Schmelzenbach says his association with Rocktown was the catalyst to get the school and staff involved.
“Our school serves a large population of students who can benefit from the program,” Schmelzenbach said. “What they get out of it not only enriches their school experience, it benefits them throughout their adult lives.”
HFAA office staffer Niria Quinones said, “It’s a very rewarding sport. No matter how good an athlete you are, you have to learn to coordinate all the muscles in your body, and you have to learn how to use all of the gear and equipment.
“But, mentoring is not just about climbing,” Quinones said. “It’s about the confidence the kids get from it, and the constant environment of support.”
Steven Charles, Rocktown Youth Mentoring executive director said, “We work with kids who are disenfranchised, who have faced more difficulties than most kids. We’re about re-establishing a healthy family.
“We want to be that adult these kids need in their lives,” he said. “Everyone needs a safety net, and there is a network here to make sure the kids don’t fall through the cracks. If they don’t show up, we find out where they are.
“If you sit down with a student in a school setting, chances are they’re going to clam up,” Charles added. “Here, we have the tools this space offers. Before the kids know it, they’re engaged and we’re having a meaningful conversation.”
The Rocktown Climbing Gym is also open to the public, and climbing fees support the mentorship program. To learn more, visit www.rocktowngym.com.
For more information, contact HFAA at 405-702-4322 or visit hardingfinearts.org.