Man filling gaps as a mentor

Photo provided by Amanda Andress Staff Sergeant Chris Bates interacts with Barkell Elementary students Josh Hill, Brody Hawthorne, Dominic Rashleigh, Emma Deidrich, Ninah Baccus and Santino Nutini.

HANCOCK — Years after his own graduation, Staff Sergeant Chris Bates has returned to area schools to fill a gap he saw growing up and encourages others to do the same.

Last year, Bates began mentoring Barkell Elementary School students on topics like bullying, responsibility and personal health. Word quickly got around to other districts with Bates now visiting South Range and Houghton Elementary Schools.

“I see what bullying has done to kids when I was in school and then, of course when I was younger, I didn’t step in because I was smaller at the time…I saw older kids picking on kids for no rhyme or reason and there was just something that struck a chord with me,” Bates said.

Bates is now living in the area and working as a National Guard recruiter while also teaching at Michigan Tech. He makes time to visit the students once each month, meeting with them over lunch.

“I just wish I had more time,” he said.

“When they know it’s his day to come they’re just all smiles and happy, so it’s great,” said Barkell fifth-grade teacher Amanda Andress.

The students Bates meets with over lunch have parent approval since he’s filling a mentorship role, Andress said. She sees Bates connecting with outlier students who don’t have a clear fit or group.

“We don’t have a counselor this year,” said Andress. “We lost her and so he’s been awesome for that because the group of kids he does see, they really benefit from him… That extra encouragement that someone is looking forward to seeing them today is pretty powerful.”

“Regardless of if it’s military, police, firemen, teacher, whatever, these kids want to have that someone to look up to,” Bates said.

With his position as a military recruiter, some might wonder about attempts to recruit the students. This is not the case.

“I think a lot of people realize if I’m talking to kids that young, you’re not planting any seeds in these kids heads as far as the military or the National Guard,” Bates said. “They’re too young, even a tenth grader is too young to really talk about the military.”

Bates hopes others will try to take a proactive approach to supporting students and serving as positive role models. Filling in gaps and mentoring kids that might otherwise slip through the cracks that just might need a hug or words of encouragement.

“Go to your old school and talk to other people or talk to the younger generation,” Bates said. “Teachers can’t see everything, other students can’t see everything. Parents can’t see everything and most parents are working, some parents are working two jobs…things slip through the cracks.”

That’s where a little extra time can help those kids grow.