Flowertown GENTS learn life lessons

  • Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ethan Fletcher tells the group about some of the things he has learned as a FES GENT. Behind him are fellow GENTS William Edge and Rico Robinson. Teacher and GENTS program coordinator Jody Gerhardt is standing to Ethan’s right. JIM TATUM/JOURNAL SCENE

 Fear and failure may sound like odd cornerstones to success.
Yet those two concepts are very much a part of building a successful future, Raphael James told his audience of fifth grade boys during a special event held Thursday night at Summerbrook Community Church in Summerville.
The event was the first annual GENTS Build Your Own Burger Banquet, a special father/son dinner catered by FES corporate partner in education Logan’s Roadhouse.
GENTS, an initiative started by FES teacher Jody Gerhardt, stands for Gentlemen Effectively Navigating Toward Success. It is a year-long elective for fifth grade boys. The idea is to expose them to a variety of educational and community service opportunities to help them gain self confidence for the next phase of their school careers – middle school – and their lives.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Gerhardt said of her fledgling program. “I want them to leave here feeling confident – if they have confidence, then they make better decisions and better choices.”
Principal Donna Goodwin agreed.
“It’s about helping them gain self respect and respect for others,” she said. “We feel that GENTS is a great direction for our fifth grade boys – our goal is to prepare them with the tools they need to be successful, confident, and happy.”
James, a local television news anchor and father of three, told the boys that they need to learn to face their fears and embrace their failures in order to achieve success.
James talked about his son, who lives with autism. James told the group that people with autism have sensory issues – certain sounds, smells, textures can cause extreme distress.
In his son’s case, James said the problem was water; his son did not like water on his face or head. However, he did overcome that, a little at a time.
“One thing I really admire about my son is that there is something inside of him that won’t let him stop,” James said.
James talked about getting involved with a group that works with autistic children by teaching them how to ride surfboards in the ocean. However, in order to get some children ready for such a moment, it is often advisable to get them used to the idea a little at a time, such as maybe sitting in a bath.
James said he bought a plastic wading pool and the entire family spent an afternoon dipping their faces in the water trying to show his son there was nothing to fear.
“He was not having any of it,” James said. However, at the end of the afternoon, as everyone was getting out, the boy suddenly dipped his face in the water.
The next day, he stood in front of the pool and asked his mother, “Water, please.”
“He faced his fear and conquered it,” James said. “We were ecstatic – this was huge for him.”
More importantly, however, it taught James that as this boy’s father, there was nothing in the world he could possibly fear.
James also talked about failure and the fact that many people won’t try to do new things and ultimately don’t follow their dreams because they fear failure. He talked about his time in basic training in the army and the difficulty he had passing the physical training test because he could not quite perform 42 pushups. Then a friend gave him a piece of advice -- that he should aim to do fifty pushups rather than the required 42.
“What happened was that I passed 42 with no problem,” he said, admitting that he finally hit the wall at around pushup number 48.  So as it turned out, he passed his PT test with no trouble and he learned a very important lesson: most of the time, failure is all in the mind, he said.
“Forget perfect,” James said. “Life is a struggle for everybody – nobody has it perfect. It’s how we handle struggle that’s important.”

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