Like many elementary schools, most of the teachers and staff at Vestavia Hills Elementary Cahaba Heights are female, so last school year some of the few male faculty and staff members took stock of the importance in their position as role models for boys in the school and wanted to do something about it. That’s how Grub Hub, a character-building lunch club for fifth-grade boys, got its start. Once a month the boys met in small groups with Custodian Orenzo Hardy, Paraprofessional Xavier Bryant, School Resource Officer Andy Chapman or Assistant Principal Jason Bostic to talk through character traits and role play situations. Last year the club was awarded a promising practice from for its work. To learn more about it, we chatted with Orenzo Hardy and school counselor Cortney McKinney.

How did this character club get started?

Cortney: It all began last year when one of our paraprofessionals Xavier Bryant came to our Assistant Principal Mr. Bostic and said, “I think it would be a really cool idea to have some lunch bunches with these boys.” There was an urgency to make an impression on them before they move to middle school. They wanted to take some of that character traits we were discussing and teach these boys how to be men of integrity and character.

What did the club meetings look like?

Orenzo: We started off talking to the boys about being accountable and integrity and making good decisions no matter who is watching or where you are. We want them to understand that going into middle school you are going to be more of an individual and make individual decisions, and that you have to hold each other accountable. If each student takes care of himself and looks out for the group, it will make a better situation for the whole community.

Why do you think the club is important?

Orenzo: As males we wanted to share that we care about these boys and their growth and their studies. Being able to express yourself as a male sometimes is difficult, especially at that age. We wanted them to know that they are special and that they are future leaders of this community and will make difference in this community and state and country. 

How did you see the club impacted the boys in it?

Cortney: At the end of the year, I was asked to find one or two things we did well at our school to highlight at a meeting, so I invited Bryce Romeo to talk about what he liked about Grub Hub. He said he considered it “bro time,” and they looked forward to it every single month. They got to know a police officer as someone who is not threatening. They got to know the assistant principle as someone who doesn’t discipline but who listens. They got to know the custodian as someone who is there for them in every sense of the word.

Orenzo:  Knowing you have a male adult you can turn to no matter what was something that was reassuring. The kids felt comfortable coming to us with certain things, and you could see their growth to be accountable and responsible. You could see them helping the little kids and being respectful to the staff and their classmates.

What will Grub Hub look like this year?

Cortney McKinney: This year we don’t have Mr. Bostic and Mr. X, so we are down a few men who directed the club. This year the Youth Leadership classes at the high school are selecting six to eight guys who will come over here once a month to be our new leaders. I think that’s going to start a really neat relationship where our guys are going to hang on every word they say. We also plan to invite some of our men from the board.