Mission + Story
Our cornerstone belief is that all children can develop and become positive members of society when they are given the opportunities to be successful. All participants, after completing the Advantage Lancaster program, will be equipped with the skills and aptitude needed to navigate their way through their primary academic career and on to some form of higher education, thus increasing their opportunities to succeed.
Ty Bair grew up with 13 brothers and sisters where education was not a main priority. After losing two siblings to gang-related violence, Mr. Bair realized that dropping out of school was the common thread that led them to the street life. He began to rely on those who came into his life and taught him that he didn’t have to repeat the cycle. He met Shayne Meadows during his first year of teaching at Hand Middle School while Mr. Bair was completing his education in high school. The two of them clicked. Mr. Bair soon began his career path in education as well and, after having worked together and becoming friends, the pair began to notice that over the summer the students were losing what knowledge they had learned in the classroom. With some of the students already behind in learning, they put their heads together and questioned what an education and reading program would look like without the constricted boundaries of a class setting.
Their goal was to give middle school students experiences to keep them engaged in education throughout the summer months. In 2002, they picked a book and for eight weeks during the summer, Mr. Bair and Mr. Meadows traveled, read, and conducted community service with a group of 13 students. When the fun-filled summer of learning came to an end, the two teachers decided to continue their group throughout the school year. Advantage Lancaster soon became an official mentorship program with a main focus of keeping students accountable for what they learn and decreasing the learning loss throughout the school year by exposing kids to a variety of activities.
“We wanted to give the kids something where they could say, ‘I love going to school because I already have this experience. I love going to school because I have this mentor who really cares about me,’” says Mr. Bair.
Their love for education and being mentors is what keeps the pair focused in their program. In the past five years, 100% of students who have utilized the Advantage Lancaster program have graduated high school—most of which have entered the workforce or have gone on to further education. The program was initially focused on reading and then experiencing what they have read. For example, the group read a book about The Bronx in New York and afterwards, jumped in a van and took a trip there so they could become exposed to the culture first-hand—thus creating a bond of what they have read with a real-life experience. Their summer experiences have included trips to restaurants, the beach, college tours, tennis tournaments, theater performances, museums, and more. Many of which are first-time experiences that the kids will never forget having.
Today, Mr. Meadows and Mr. Bair have incorporated a variety of classes within Advantage Lancaster, such as computer coding, wellness, photography, LEGO® building, and ballroom dancing. Partnerships with organizations, such as Thaddeus Stevens, PCA&D, the Y, and Lancaster Workforce Investment have been pivotal in providing middle school students with involvements that pave the way to their successful futures with all of their classes being built on marketable skills.
“We’ve grown out of necessity. You get to know the young people, you work with them, and you’re not a mentor for five hours or you’re not a mentor for eight hours… you’re a mentor all the time. So sometimes we get a call from a student and they say ‘Mr. Bair or Mr. Meadows, I’m thinking about taking this summer opportunity instead of investing in myself.’ We have to say, ‘Wait a minute, you want to work at Dutch Wonderland or Wendy’s, but what about that Algebra II class or what about that class that we had been planning on for you? In the long run, what is going to benefit you the best?’ We need to build opportunities where the students are able to work in the summer for money but still get the opportunity to better themselves,” Mr. Meadows states.
Mr. Bair chimes in, “We’re going to work on winning life plans—whether that winning life plan is graduating high school and getting a job—as long as it’s a job that can get you out of whatever may have put you in a bad situation, we are aiming to give the least the best.”
Holding the students accountable for their schoolwork as well as their “education as a way of life” is key. On a middle school level, Mr. Meadows and Mr. Bair look at honor roll status or progression in a student’s grades in order for them to carry on in the program and to continue striving forward. Parent immersion is also important as families are strongly encouraged to be involved in the program’s trips, community service, and must attend Back to School nights.
Thanks to Jen Meadows’ involvement at McCaskey High School, Advantage Lancaster now reaches beyond the middle school years. The students are able to transition from Hand Middle School into the high school where the math teacher takes the reigns and gives students the same opportunities to join the program. Mrs. Meadows sets the bar for maintaining GPA standards and logging a number of community service hours in order to continue their involvement in the organization.
But Advantage Lancaster does not stop there. A physical learning center is currently being built near Hand which will create a program that will be available not only to those beyond the current enrollment of solely Hand Middle School students, but to students city-wide and throughout the county as well as adults as both an education and job placement center. With plans for the center to be run by the community during the day and students after school, it will be the hub of what a community could be with the ability to mentor more students than their current maximum capacity of 50. “Our program is not for the bottom of the bottom or the top of the top,” Mr. Bair says. “It’s for everybody.”