HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Parents and educators at Hopewell High School northwest of Charlotte are working to make the school a safer place for all its students.
Following an incident in the fall semester when police said two guns were found on campus after a fight and several students were charged, the community surrounding Huntersville's Hopewell High School called for action and wanted to find solutions.
Parents told WCNC Charlotte Hopewell High School Principal Tracey Pickard encouraged their involvement, and the Titan Dads and Moms on Mission group emerged as a way to help reduce conflicts on campus.
"Our focus, our mission is safe spaces for learning,” Pickard shared. “Schools are meant to be that for students. If that's not happening, we've got to figure out why, and we've got to get to the root cause, and we have to continue to make adjustments. This was our way of making the adjustments we needed to continue to make Hopewell the best that it can be."
The two groups are comprised of about 30 to 50 parents who each rotate through three-hour shifts throughout the school day. The parents monitor the halls, connect with students and often provide a listening ear if needed.
Tramaine Smith, a dad with two boys who attend Hopewell High School, volunteers every chance he gets, even for the whole school day sometimes.
"Every hour that I put in, every minute I put in, every second that I put in, I feel like it makes a difference to somebody walking down that hallway,” Smith said.
Smith said it was shocking to see the incident that unfolded in the hallway of the school where his children attend.
"That incident really opened eyes,” Smith said.
Smith said he was surprised to see how quickly kids can escalate to taking drastic measures.
Smith saw an opportunity to be part of the solution with Titan Dads and Moms on Mission and be a father figure in the hallways, too.
"When we first got here, the [students] were, you know, [asking] 'What are you doing here?'” Smith admitted. “But now, you get some that say thank you. You get some that have those problems. ‘OK, Mr. Smith, can I talk to you about something?’ Versus beforehand, you didn't get that."
Mike Moses is Smith’s next-door neighbor and lead pastor at Lake Forest Church in Huntersville, which hosted a town hall meeting in November 2021 to discuss solutions to the conflicts that arose at Hopewell.
Moses’ sons graduated from the school, and he wanted to sign up to volunteer when he heard about the program.
Moses said the parents have been working to define their role with the program, determining part of it is connecting with students any way they can.
"As cheesy as it sounds, it's to just put some ‘dad juice’ around the halls,” Moses said. “Just dad humor, a dad smile. I'm willing to be awkward and say, 'Hey what's happening? What's the meeting about here in the bathroom?'’”
The school is already seeing the program make a difference, with incidents of conflict dramatically down in December.
"It's really, honestly, being available and being present,” Moses said. “It's as simple as that."
Pickard said the school has been more committed to checking in on students consistently and has been more in tune with what students need. She said the volunteer program really has helped the school feel more connected during the school day.
“All of our students have potential, and it’s up to us to maximize that in any way that we can,” Pickard said. “And this is one of the creative ways that we pulled together as a community to try to make that happen for our students.”
Pickard said some other school districts have already started reaching out to her about implementing similar programs at schools in their districts.