Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

MENTORING PROGRAM GETS HIGH MARKS FORMER STEELERS RECEIVER SEEKS TO BUILD CHARACTER AMONG HIGH-RISK STUDENTS Series: AT SCHOOL

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

MENTORING PROGRAM GETS HIGH MARKS FORMER STEELERS RECEIVER SEEKS TO BUILD CHARACTER AMONG HIGH-RISK STUDENTS Series: AT SCHOOL

Article excerpt

A handful of boys sat around a table in a far corner of an empty library at Steel Valley Middle School. They laughed and joked, going back and forth about their opinions. The topic: The difference between swagger and confidence.

"Having swag means you're too cocky."

"Nah, it means having everything matching, head to toe."

The discussion was part of an hourlong biweekly meeting for members of the Pursuit at the middle school, a mentoring program based on a motivational book written by former Steelers wide receiver Wesley Lyons. Mr. Lyons meets with the students in a small group every other week to discuss "character-building" topics such as self-esteem, positive behavior and relationship-building.

On his website, Mr. Lyons describes the Pursuit as a program targeting "at-risk students who need extra encouragement to excel" and "provides a platform for the students to acquire additional knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to be successful individuals and life-long learners."

About 150 students participate in the program in three school districts: West Mifflin Area, Steel Valley and Woodland Hills. Students are targeted based on three determining factors: grades, attendance and behavior.

"His focus is basically that gap between teachers, the students and outside places and factors that impact them," said Dan Castagna, superintendent of the West Mifflin Area School District. "He's that emergency outlet that the kids need."

Donnie Bates, a seventh-grade student at Steel Valley Middle School, described Mr. Lyons as "like a teacher, but cooler." It was a standout day for Donnie when he was chosen to be part of the program.

"It was a shock when I got picked, because I never get picked for anything," Donnie said. "It felt good, that I get to be in a program with someone like him."

Program costs vary.

In West Mifflin, the program costs the district about $10,000 annually.

In Woodland Hills, the school board in October approved $19,000 for the program at the high school, funded by a Heinz Endowments grant. The school board approved another $10,000 for the junior high school, funded by a Keystones to Opportunity state grant.

Steel Valley administrators could not be reached for comment about the cost of the program for its three participating schools: Barrett Elementary School, Steel Valley Middle School and an alternative education program at Batch Center.

This is the first year for the program, which started in October.

Mr. Lyons is a North Braddock native and Woodland Hills graduate who played at West Virginia University and was on the Steelers' preseason 2011 team. In 2012, he wrote his book, "The Pursuit With Patience," and he sent information about it to area school districts.

Eventually, he said, he started receiving calls from principals to do motivational speeches. …

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