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Call Me MISTER initiative continues growth at Newberry

by Jay Salter '19 | External Communications Coordinator - April 24, 2023


NEWBERRY — "I am a dedicated servant leader who is perpetuating a sorely needed concept — servant-leaders as role models in elementary schools. I am devoted to planting seeds of dignity and respect in children and inspiring them to cultivate those seeds, producing a crop of unprecedented success.”


Each student member of the Call Me MISTER initiative knows by heart these and the lines that follow. The intercollegiate program’s vision statement doubles as a sort of creed, concisely and resolutely reminding him of his calling … as well as his identity.


Call Me MISTER, first established at Clemson University in 2000, addresses a nationwide shortage of male elementary school teachers from diverse backgrounds. The program’s name is an acronym, standing for “Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role models.” The initiative’s student participants, called MISTERs, are selected largely from underserved, educationally at-risk communities, and receive extensive mentoring, scholarship support and professional growth opportunities. Now one of 18 participating South Carolina four-year institutions, Newberry College joined the program in 2010 and graduated its first MISTER in 2013.


“Mister” is more than just a prefix for these gentlemen. It is a demand for respect, a testament to character and integrity, and a reference to vision.


Now in its 13th year, the Newberry site continues to grow and develop, with 14 graduates carrying the title and 10 students preparing to assume its weight.


At the end of March, Dr. John Lesaine ’07, campus site coordinator, Dr. Susan Fernandez, dean of education, and senior Ja'kobe Bush, of Aiken, represented the Newberry program at the Association of Teacher Educators’ annual meeting in Jacksonville, Florida.


Fernandez and Lesaine led a session titled "Someone Who Looks Like Me: Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color,” in which Bush and MISTERs from USC Aiken and USC Upstate shared their experiences. At the end, Fernandez said, a standing ovation ensued.



“It was a great opportunity and learning experience, especially for Mr. Bush,” said Lesaine. “The collaboration with the cohorts from USC Aiken and USC Upstate was nothing short of special. We live by the statement, ‘We are many schools, but we are one MISTER.’ During this presentation, the power of MISTER was on full display and these young men showed what makes the program so special.”


“We've had MISTERs who have gone on to be Teachers of the Year, and who continued into administration in different capacities. I have former MISTER who wants to be the superintendent of Greenwood County Schools. That's what his aspirations are,” said Fernandez.


“It's just a valuable program that is putting young African American men in our school system with a strong support system and professional development experiences, opportunities they might not have had if they hadn't been part of the program,” she said.


Beginning this month, Newberry MISTER graduate Brandarius Jones ’20 will lead the program as campus site coordinator. Jones currently serves as a fifth grade teacher at Killian Elementary and defensive football coach at W.J. Keenan High.


“I was still always helping out and was in constant contact with Dr. Lesaine and Mr. [Jared] Woolstenhulme with suggestions. Mr. Woolstenhulme contacted me and wanted me to help out, and the talks progressed from there,” said Jones.


“As a student, the experience was just what I needed to get through college and to grow,” he said of the program. “It reminds me of my ‘why’ every day and gives me a sense of purpose. Without Call Me MISTER and that brotherhood, I wouldn’t be the person or the teacher who I am today.”


Top: South Carolina Call Me MISTER cohorts at the Association of Teacher Educators’ annual meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, March 28, 2023. (Standing) Rashad Paige of USC Aiken, Ja'kobe Bush and Dr. John Lesaine '07; (Sitting) Melvin Archie, Jordan Walker and Terrance Williams of USC Aiken. Right: Brandarius Jones '20.

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