PLANT CITY The members of Marshall Middle School’s Gentlemen’s Quest club are always up to something. Once upon a time, that might have meant up to no good for these seventh and eighth grade at-risk youth. These days, quite the opposite is true.
Last year, GQ members marched in a parade, visited a nursing home and planted 11 flower beds on the school campus. This year, they’ve added mulch to the beds, planted 10 trees and wrapped the club tree in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month.
On a recent Friday morning, about 20 GQ members in Stanley Glover’s first-period peer counseling class undertook a new challenge. Their task was to transform chunks of unyielding grey clay into vessels: bowls that will be sold to help feed the hungry.
“We are the initiators and the creators of the bowls,” Glover told the boys. “Life is a full circle. They will leave our hands and come back full circle.”
Marshall Middle School Principal Daphne Blanton and club advisor Elisa Humphry became impromptu art instructors, demonstrating how to shape clay into thin, rope-like strings and rolling them into coils to form the bottom of a bowl. They squeezed clay pieces together to build pinch pots, using water to glue edges together.
Three fathers active with the club pitched in. James (DJ) Satter set to work with son Taurean Sumrall, 12. Aldo Mincey lent a hand to son Ashton, 12, and Thomas Anderson crafted bowls with his 13-year-old twins Thomas and Hunter.
“Make sure your foundation is solid and strong,” instructed Blanton, as boys wearing gloves rolled, poked, pinched and stretched clay.
The novice potters eagerly experimented with their new medium, showing off strategies to fellow students. After a little trial and error, the gooey masses began to morph into recognizable shapes. Even Glover, a self-proclaimed non-crafter, grabbed a block and began showing Erik Gonzalez, 15, how to finesse his creation.
The bowls, later fired by the Plant City High School Civinettes, will become part of Plant City’s Third Annual Empty Bowls project to raise money for local hunger prevention efforts.
For a $10 donation, those attending the Empty Bowls event Saturday from 11 to 1:30 p.m. at the Historic Downtown Train Depot will receive a lunch of bread, fruit, soup, water and one of the bowls created by area students, said Empty Bowls team member Sylvia Dodson. The effort raises funds for the United Food Bank of Plant City.
“It’s the first time we’ve participated because we don’t have an art class,” said Blanton. “It’s a good way to touch their creative side. I’ve always felt we were missing out, and I don’t like my kids to miss out on anything.”
Originally formed in 2007, the club started with 28 youths and a goal to close the achievement gap for at-risk boys. The club’s mission is “Advancement Via Individual Development (AVID),” with attributes that include integrity, empathy, courage, brotherhood, responsibility and respect.
Glover, a math teacher at the school for 14 years, took leadership of the club in 2010 at Blanton’s urging.
“Mr. Glover sees the positive and potential in them and makes learning fun,” said Blanton. “They were reading poetry and making rap out of it after school. It changes how they look at learning.”
“I love that part,” said Glover. “It makes students think ‘I can get involved. I can do things. I can make things happen.’”
Glover, who was president of his Toastmasters club in college, said GQ members become confident, poised and articulate.
In Friday’s class, GQ President Ezekiel Dorsaint, 14, gave opening remarks and Corey Green, 13, quoted George Washington Carver: “Ninety-nine percent of failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”
“They have to go and learn them,” Glover said of the recitations. “The goal is to have 100 quotes in a journal and be ready to recite at any given time.”
To ensure members take the lessons seriously, he queries them on campus walkways and pays surprise visits to other teachers’ classrooms.
“I pop into class, point and snap and the boy gets up and gives me a quote,” said Glover. While there, he’ll find out if GQ members are disruptive or disrespectful. Membership is a privilege, he said. Those who want to join must apply, be voted in and get parental consent.
There are 424 boys in Marshall’s 798-student population this year. About 50 boys in 7th and 8th grades have applied for GQ membership. There also is a junior GQ club for 6th graders led by social studies teacher Omicron Long. “Eventually, we’ll have a club for each grade level.” Glover said. “If they are part of GQ, there’s a certain way they have to act. Not all boys buy into that.”
Each GQ member has a mentor who has volunteered to work with him on academics and for advice. Glover said 16 teachers have signed on to work with GQ boys. GPAs are listed on a board in Glover’s classroom.
In addition to academic achievement, appearance counts. A “man corner” in the room holds grooming supplies; dress clothes hang in a closet.
Ties denote rank. Neophytes’ ties are black, prophytes wear gold and officers sport neckties in gold and black. Top-performing scholars soon will wear a tie of a different stripe.
Blanton purchased the first ties and vests for the club, said Glover.
“Our principal upholds these guys to be the role models for the campus.”
GQ members also visit elementary schools as ambassadors, hoping to ease the transition to middle school. Another trip will be to the children’s ward at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“It teaches you how to be humble, to be thankful and appreciative for what you have,” said Glover.
More adventurous outings for GQ members are in the works. For three days in December, members can attend the Florida Elks Youth Camp in Umatilla. Glover also plans to take current and former GQ members to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach for a glimpse of college life.
Many of the boys lack resources for trips or attire, however, so the school teamed with the Florida State Professional Wrestling Association to put on a fundraising event.
The live-wrestling event has changed in date and venue from early fliers sent out into the community, said Anderson.
It is set for Friday, Nov. 22, at the John R. Trinkle Center on the Hillsborough Community College campus, 1206 N. Park Road in Plant City. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m.
The main attraction pits “Stretcher” Chris Michaels and Stanley Glover against Victor Romanoff and “Classy” Chris Nelson. There also will be three title matches: FSPWA Heavyweight Title with Cliff Anderson versus Butch Long; FSPWA Tag Team Titles with America’s Team take on The Mercenaries; and FSPWA Lightweight Title with “The Outcast” Jorel Ganzy will grapple with Sean Swag.
Tickets are $5 general admission, and $10 for ringside seats. All proceeds will benefit Gentlemen’s Quest, said Anderson.
“We’ve raised $3,000 to cover the cost of the wrestlers, and 100 percent of the profits will be donated to GQ,” he said. “We’re hoping to raise between $5,000 and $10,000.”
“I want to take these boys so they can see some things,” said Glover. “It’s not perfect, but they are better educated, (their) home life is better, attendance is better, crime goes down and respect goes up.”
“These are their formative years,” said Blanton. “We want to give them as many options as possible.”