Education Feature: Airmen take students under their wings

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Julian Gomez, left, sits with his mentor, Staff Sgt. Samuel Song, during geometry class at Yucca Middle School. The pair have been working together for about seven weeks as part of the school’s mentoring program with Cannon Air Force Base.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

In a classroom in Yucca Middle School sits a person who doesn’t seem to belong.

He’s about 5 feet 9 inches tall. His feet, laden with big black boots, stick out in front of his small desk, obstructing the walkway around him.

His adult frame is draped in camouflage from head to foot. He doesn’t talk while the teacher is talking. But he watches every move his neighbor’s pen makes.

Staff Sgt. Samuel Song, 27, comes to Yucca Middle School each week to mentor 13-year-old Julian Gomez. On this particular day, he sits in geometry class with Gomez, helping him learn how to find the surface area of a sphere. The two are focused on Gomez’ worksheet in front of him. They work out each question as a team.

Twenty-five airmen from Cannon Air Force Base have committed time each week to a student since September, when Yucca Middle School instructional coach Jami Kostan initiated the mentoring program.

“We try to put a positive role model in their life to kind of guide them in the right direction,” Kostan said.

The children who are assigned a mentor are recommended by teachers based on whether a child has behavioral issues, been involved in a gang or is failing classes, Kostan said.

“A couple of the kids have come to us and asked for (a mentor), and we have certainly honored those,” she said.

Gomez promised his brother, who is in the Army, that he would do better in school. And to do that, Gomez became involved in the mentoring program.

“He’s cool,” Gomez said of his mentor. “He’s helping me with stuff when I need help. He calls and asks if I want him to come. And I’m like ‘yeah’.”

Song is considering becoming a teacher and had previously tutored. He felt the program was something he could help with.

The two have been working together for almost two months. And Gomez said it’s helped his grades and his outlook.

“It’s helped me just to do better and not worry about everybody else,” Gomez said.