Elevate Phoenix gives struggling youth a second chance

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A growing youth program in inner-city Phoenix aims to pair teachers and mentors with struggling students to help them stay in school.

Elevate Phoenix provides in-school teaching, after-school mentoring, tutoring, career instruction, and peer leadership development. The organization’s programs help youth stay in school, graduate, and enroll in post-secondary education. Michelin Roehl, a teacher and mentor for Elevate Phoenix, spoke with Horizonte about the program.


Michelin Roehl: Basically Elevate Phoenix began through a model that was done in Colorado called uplift. Our board member he came from there and he was on the staff there and he came to phoenix and decided that he wanted to create the exact same thing but have it be specifically for Phoenix.

Jose Cardenas: This was about six years ago?

Michelin Roehl: It’s about nine years ago. We have been in Caesar Chavez for approximately nine years now.

Jose Cardenas: And the basic elements of the model as I understand involve teacher-mentors working with students who have issues.

Michelin Roehl: Yes. Absolutely and I love that they specify teacher mentor. It is two different jobs. As teacher we are on campus and provide an extra curriculum class that they take and it is not required but it is an optional class. When they come in, they think they are taking a regular class called peer leadership but what they are really getting is that leadership but 24/7 mentoring and that is where you get the definition teacher mentor.

Jose Cardenas: Stacy, when you got involved did you know what you were getting into?

Stacey Flannery: I had no idea. I was quite shocked coming into the classroom because I came from an area where people were not friendly. They didn't take interest in me, how my day was, what I liked, my hobbies. So coming into the classroom with two energizer bunnies is how I like to refer to them. They are full of life and energy and they’re so excited that you’re there and call you by names. They welcome you with open arms.

Jose Cardenas: What school where you at, at that time?

Stacey Flannery: I was at Camel back high school and it was in 2012 when I first came to Camelback.

Jose Cardenas: As I understand, the class or classes cause theirs more than one. Fulfill credit requirements so you think you are going into a regular classroom and just checking a box?

Stacey Flannery: Yeah. So it fulfilled an elective requirement for me. The class that I was supposed to take ended up being canceled because there wasn't enough who signed up for it so I was shuffled into this one for its first year there and looking back I am so glad that I was.

Jose Cardenas: You were a freshman?

Stacey Flannery: I was a junior in high school.

Jose Cardenas: The video we saw sounds like you were going through tough times.

Stacey Flannery: Yeah my life hasn’t always been so easy. I come from a good home with two loving parents. I am an only child. I always felt like something was missing in my life. Just some void I needed to fill. So growing up I was bullied for being different, for not fitting in. I never saw myself as different. I was like we like the same thing, eat the same food, like the same food why can't we be friends? Bullying was tough for me until I was a freshman in high school and I replaced bullying with abusive relationships because I had no self-love, no idea of who I was, what I liked, my hobbies, I hated myself. I decided if someone could love me it was better than not being loved at all and ended up in an abusive relationship and that lasted for two years in high school. I was in elevate phoenix at the time my relationship was going on. So I was being fed two different things. My worlds were kind of split.

Jose Cardenas: How did elevate phoenix change your perspective? You were already in this relationship, what was the experience that made you change things?

Stacey Flannery: I received a mentor in Elevate Phoenix. Her name is Jasmine and she was with me every step of the way. Through the good days and bad days. I had this wall up that was so intensely built from years of being hurt and betrayed and all this pain I stored up. My wall wasn't just a simple wall. It had knives sticking out on the other side so anyone trying to help me would get hurt in the process and eventually give up, like I was used to everybody doing in my life.

Jose Cardenas: And she didn’t give up?

Stacey Flannery: Jasmine didn't give up. She wrapped her arms around me and even though I pushed her away but she didn't let go. Until I opened up and told her all these things that I kept to myself for years and pain I have been harboring and she filled me with truth of who I was, that I have a purpose, that I will go on to do great things in life, and that I am not alone.

Jose Cardenas: So, Michelin are the teacher mentors that participate it sounds like there is a whole lot of counseling that goes on.

Michelin Roehl: We wouldn’t even call it counseling we actually consider it doing life together. The thing that we’re committed to do is bring long-term life changing relationships to these kids and the only way we can do that is being personable with them.

Jose Cardenas: So what kind of training do the participants get, the teachers mentors?

Michelin Roehl: We learn how to teach students and then on top of it we are accountable for learning how to guide them through spiritual principles, through conscious, life skills, character qualities. All things you think would be common in a child's home but they are not getting those.

Jose Cardenas: And does the student chose the program?

Michelin Roehl: Absolutely. It is an elective. They come in just like they would in any other type of an elective. When I was growing up, the elective was like homemaking skills and things like that. This is kind of like that. They come and they choose. You would be shocked at how many kids come through that have the same story.

Jose Cardenas: Are there other teachers who identify them and recommend them?

Michelin Roehl: Absolutely. Our counselors know exactly what type of students that we’re looking for that we would like to bring up into our organization that might normally be left behind.

Jose Cardenas: You seem to have a lot of support. You have people like Tom Lane the famous golfer. How did he get involved?

Michelin Roehl: Actually the exact same passion. He has a strong passion for mentoring and what he noticed seeing kids once a week or an hour at time wasn't producing the results he wanted to have an impact on their lives. When he came into the board of elevate phoenix and brought his heart it was about providing that 24/7, long-term relationship. Our kids are not used to hearing those words. They are used to being given up on. They are not used to being encouraged and saying you can do whatever you want that’s stupid and we are still going to be here for you.

Jose Cardenas: Another key of the program is that you and your fellow students you then end up teaching in the lower grades?

Stacey Flannery: We would go down to our partner elementary schools and we’d teach from 2nd grade until 6th grade. Then the 7th and 8th graders have their own program though elevate but in high school, you would go down and you would teach the kids the same things you are learning in class. So you are teaching them about being respectful, being responsible, having a positive work ethic and being ready to look at your vision for your future and all those things your teacher mentors are teaching you.

Jose Cardenas: So you’re passing it on. We are almost out of time. Success. How do you measure success? How many lives has the program touched?

Michelin Roehl: Right now, we would like to say that we average about 5,000 students between all of our pipe lines a year. One of the things we are most proud of is our graduation rate. These are kids that would not typically not necessarily graduate from high school and we are at about a 97% rate and that is a measure of success. These are kids, first-generation graduates.

Jose Cardenas: And they are going on to college as I understand?

Michelin Roehl: Absolutely or post-secondary Alumni. We follow them forever. They don't know what they are getting into.

Jose: It is a great story. Wish he had more time to talk about it but thank you both so much for joining us on Horizonte.

Michelin Roehl, Stacey Flannery: Thank you for having us.

Michelin Roehl: Elevate Phoenix

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