To 3rd graders in Columbia’s Hyatt Park Elementary School, Jeorgie Hicks is a role model. But it was a long journey from his childhood in Atlantic City, New Jersey to finding his calling to help others realize their full potential.
As a youngster, Jeorgie faced several challenges both personally and in school. Jeorgie admits that he had many “disobedient behaviors in school” and that he “acted out a lot.” Another difficulty was his transition from his mom’s care into his dad’s care when he turned 12. “I just had to move in with him and deal with it,” Jeorgie said. But with some hard work, Jeorgie was still able to succeed.
Thankfully, he found an important motivator in his older sister’s “aspirations to go to college and be a student athlete.” Jeorgie explains that, “seeing how people cared about her success inspired me a lot.” This motivation helped him overcome long odds to graduate as a student athlete from Benedict College, becoming the first college graduate in his family.
But despite his sister’s inspiration, when asked if he would have benefitted from more direct mentoring growing up, Jeorgie quickly answers, “Yes!” Reflecting back on navigating the difficult high school years, he says, “If I would have had that mentor in high school…he could have come to support me at the track, and then taken me to the library to study for the SAT.”
Equipped with this life experience, Jeorgie decided to be that mentor to help other children succeed in school. So after graduation from college, he joined City Year, an education-focused nonprofit that equips young leaders to serve as full-time tutors, mentors and role models for a year in a local school. City Year partners with teachers and school leaders to identify students at risk to drop out of school and helps them develop good habits of attendance, behavior, and course performance that will put them on the path to success.
“I’m here to support,” Jeorgie says. “We have to spend at least 3.5 hours of tutoring time a month with each of our students.” What Jeorgie calls the “I do; you do” tactic is one way he supports his students. To help them understand a problem, Jeorgie will demonstrate it, and then have that student try it on their own. “The most rewarding thing is…to see a student who had never made the A-B honor role, make the honor role three periods in a row. They get so pumped! That’s a big reward.”
Jeorgie and his fellow City Year mentors also try to brighten up every student’s day by talking to them about life or making birthday signs for their birthdays. “It’s their smiles that are most precious,” Jeorgie says.
Jeorgie’s personal experience has convinced him that mentoring can make the difference in schools that struggle with high school graduation rates. “You can’t put a price on mentoring…everyone needs that advice, everyone needs that friend.”