Student-athletes at Kansas University extend some helping hands to local schoolchildren.
For Blake Hegeman and Tim Patterson, Mondays are the high point of the week.
That's the day the two boys spend about an hour with two Kansas University football players who've volunteered to work with Centennial School students.
"We meet right here," Blake explained, waiting in the main hall for Steve Bratten's arrival last week. "We talk a little bit, and then Mr. Melton, our principal, gives us a privilege to go to the gym to shoot hoops."
After his arrival, Bratten, a junior linebacker from Denver, catches up on Blake's life. Before working on reading and spelling, they head to the gymnasium, and play two-on-two for a few minutes with Tim and Tyrus Fontenot, a junior inside linebacker from Houston.
"I think it's great because he gets to play with us, and he gets to help us with our work," Tim said.
Fontenot said his motivation was simple.
"I didn't have any type of role model growing up," he said. "It was just me and my mother. I was an only child, too."
Bratten and Fontenot are joined at Centennial by former football player Jason Brown and Crimson Girls squad member Dawn Trotter. The four are part of a larger group of KU student-athletes called Helping Hawks, who work in classrooms in the Lawrence school district.
"It's really a neat effort that these young people are investing," said Paul Buskirk, assistant athletic director for student support services.
The KU students at Centennial are volunteering their time. Other Helping Hawks -- two at West Junior High and one each at Sunflower and Kennedy schools -- are working 10 to 12 hours a week. Those students, who are fifth-year students or who have been injured, are paid $6 an hour through corporate support from Bagel & Bagel and Hy-Vee, Buskirk said.
In addition, some former student-athletes who have returned to KU to complete their degrees work at New York School in exchange for tuition.
"They all have a little different flavor," Buskirk said of the programs operating under the Helping Hawks umbrella.
Centennial School Principal Myron Melton said he's hopeful that the student-athletes can have more contact with other young students at his school. But initially, Melton wanted to pair the student-athletes with specific children.
"We tried to pick students we thought would be receptive to working with student-athletes, students we knew were interested in football or cheerleading," Melton said. "We also picked students we thought would benefit from having an older mentor working with them, someone who would check in with them once a week, to make sure things are going well, both academically and socially."
Being paired with a student-athlete has been a source of pride for the younger students.
"These are student-athletes that our students want to impress," Melton said. "They want to be able to say that school is going well, that they're not having any problems. It's a good motivator to help keep these kids on track."
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