TALLAHASSEEE, Fla. – Mavin Saunders started mentoring at Tallahassee’s Riley Elementary as a way to earn credit for his criminology class at Florida State.
A year and a half later, Saunders has received far more than just class credit.
For the last 18 months – far beyond his course requirements – Saunders, a tight end on the FSU football team, has hopped on his scooter twice a week and driven the two miles to Riley Elementary, an inner-city school in Tallahassee’s Griffin Heights neighborhood.
While at Riley, Saunders would spend two hours speaking to groups of students both large and small, and he also zeroed in as a mentor to two boys – one in the fourth grade and the other in fifth.
“I continued doing it outside of the classroom,” Saunders said, “because I realized how much of an impact that was made on the few kids I’ve been able to reach out to.”
Safe to say that impact was real: Riley Elementary honored Saunders earlier this week by naming him its Outstanding Adult Volunteer for the 2016-17 school year.
“A lot of our kids come from disadvantaged homes,” said Trace Laing, the mentoring coordinator at Riley. “But our principal, Mr. (Karwynn) Paul, he welcomes mentors into the school because it does make a difference. It does open their eyes and see that they can get out and do something with their lives.
“And that’s what Mavin kind of brings to the table.”
Saunders credits two older brothers, Elvaughn and Elvis, with setting him on the right path while growing up in Bimini, Bahamas.
But upon his arrival at Riley, Saunders realized that many of the students were living without positive role models.
That was the case last year, when Saunders mentored a boy who was a sharp student but didn’t receive much support from home.
“His dad is in prison. He has an older brother, but he’s not doing the right thing,” Saunders said. “I was stressing to him the importance of making the right choices, being respectful in school and having the right attitude toward the administrators at school and his grandma and everyone that’s trying to help him.”
Saunders didn’t just show up and go through the motions for two hours, either. Riley’s mentoring program required that he follow an academic curriculum, and Saunders spent much of this year brushing up on his algebra so that he could tutor a fifth-grader.
“I’ve been teaching him math skills,” Saunders said. “And how important it is – not just to do the work in school – it’s important that, when you get home, you look over your work … In order for you to learn something, you have to take time out on your own.”
When Saunders first started at Riley, most kids were star struck by his mere presence. Riley has about 60 mentors, but it’s still not every day that a 6-foot-5, 257-pound football player walks through the door.
After a while, though, Saunders said that he and the students connected on a more personal level – and that they’d spend less time talking about FSU football and more time talking about what’s going on in their own lives.
“They know I’m going to ask, ‘Hey how are things going at home, how’s your school work,'” Saunders said. “(I try to) remember specific things about the kids, showing that you actually do care and you’re not there just for show.”
A fourth-year junior looking to expand his role in a revamped FSU offense, Saunders has big plans for this season and beyond.
Laing, however, believes that whenever Saunders is finished with football, he’d be a natural fit in front of a classroom.
“I told him, ‘You might want to get out of whatever degree that you’re in and become a teacher one of these days,” Laing said. “He just does well. … He’s made a big difference at Riley Elementary.”