Jason Messer doesn’t like tossing around the moniker “hero.”
“I don’t believe very many people earned the right to be called that,” said Messer, who oversees the education of 23,500 students as superintendent of the Manteca Unified School District.
He makes a big exception, though, for one man — the late Antone Raymus.
Messer said if it wasn’t for Raymus’ dogged determination and refusal to take no for an answer, arguably the most effective partner in helping Manteca Unified teach students — Give Every Child a Chance — would not exist.
Test results show that children involved with the free tutoring program — many who are struggling and are on course to fail before being referred to the community-based effort — end up getting a better grasp on learning. Eighty percent of students with GECAC end up gaining at least a year’s worth of education comprehension.
And while Messer knows there are other programs out there, he doesn’t believe they would have as major of an impact as GECAC.
“What makes GECAC work is there is a high level of trust that teachers have,” Messer said.
By that he means teachers know the organization trains volunteers and enhances what takes place in the classroom through close collaboration with schools.
GECAC Chief Executive Officer Carol Davis noted the school district is the tutoring organization’s key partner.
“They understand we are not an after school childcare but an educational program,” Davis said.
Today, there are more than 5,000 students throughout the South County either in one-on-one tutoring sessions with mentors or involved in other endeavors such as the After School Advantage Program.
Messer, who has served on the GECAC governing board, noted that the mentoring that goes on during one-on-one sessions is invaluable. Not only does it help students to master subjects, but it also lifts their self-esteem and even improves their ability to learn.
“There are a lot of older students mentoring younger student,” Messer said.
Messer said he has overheard older student tutors that have had the same teachers that the students they are mentoring have had explain how they managed to understand the same subject material.
“It also means a lot to a child to know that there is an adult or someone older who is going to be there just for them twice a week,” Messer said.
Raymus was inspired — some say driven — after he witnessed an angry teen throwing objects in a shop class at the California Youth Authority in Stockton years ago when he was on a tour there with the Manteca Kiwanis. Raymus wanted to find a way to make sure that other young people didn’t end up like the frustrated teen he encountered behind bars.
Messer noted that while Raymus didn’t know what the solution was but he was willing to put up his own money, hire those that could find a solution, and use his influence to bring people in the community together to make it happen.
The decision was to help kids succeed in school so they wouldn’t be — or feel like — failures in life.
“He defines hero,” Messer said of Raymus. “He never gave up.”