Jacksonville educator and chef help mentor students from Westside High School

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An educator and chef in Duval County are working together to make sure students at Westside High School have a brighter future.

School leaders said about 80% of the student body at Westside High School is African American and shows that students have better outcomes when they have mentors who look like them.

Dr. Stephen Richardson, the school’s assistant principal, has a special connection with the school, one you may have missed if you walked down the halls.

“This is actually the school that I graduated from when I was in high school 21 years ago,” Dr. Richardson said.

But what’s even more special than that is the relationship he has with the students.

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Michael James told Action News Jax he couldn’t imagine a better mentor and role model.

“If I have something that I can’t deal with by myself, I feel like I can talk to Dr. Richardson, know he’s got my back,” James said.

Before meeting Dr. Richardson, James didn’t see a life past high school.

“He said prior to him talking to me, he really was just planning to do the street life,” Dr. Richardson said.

Marterrion Dandridge or “Buddy” as he likes to be called, is another senior at the high school.

Dandridge told Action News Jax he expressed an interested in culinary arts and cooking so Dr. Richardson introduced him to his brother, a local chef in Avondale.

His brother, Donald, served time behind bars for selling drugs when he was younger, but then he turned his life around. Now he’s showing students the ropes in the kitchen and he’s even hired Marterrion full-time.

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“He helped me because, I mean, without that job, I would have still been working at McDonalds. It would have been harder for me to find a way to work on my cooking skills,” Dandridge said.

With help from Dr. Richardson, both teens are applying to college and are on their way to graduating with a brighter future ahead of them.

“It’s not about wearing your pants down, you know below your waist, or your mouth full of golds, and just to see a different image of someone who is clean cut and well-spoken who looks like them. I think it’s huge.”

Research also shows when students have positive minority role models there’s lower referrals for discipline and higher graduation rates.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only about 7% of our nation’s teachers are Black.