Saugerties senior Salvatore Delair readily admits that in previous years, he had followed the wrong path in terms of his commitment to his academics. “I used to get in trouble a lot,” Delair said while reminiscing about his sophomore and junior years. “I used to get sent to the office all the time for being disrespectful, being late to class, and not handing in homework.”
During his senior year, the potential consequences of his previous decisions started to hit home. “Honestly I never thought that I would graduate, but deep down inside I wanted to,” Delair admitted. It was that deeply hidden glimmer of hope, as well as developing a mentoring relationship with Saugerties School Resource Officer Travis Winchell, that helped turn things around.
Following the recommendation of a former classmate, Delair decided to check out an unofficial program that Officer Winchell started three years ago to help students who were at risk of not graduating. Now called “Officer Winchell’s Mentoring Academy,” at-risk students can attend a study hall-like program where they do their work under the watchful eye of their mentor. “I’ve always thought that getting an education was important,” said Officer Winchell. “Sometimes students just need someone in their cheering section to root them on.”
“It’s amazing,” said High School Principal Tim Reid about the relationships Officer Winchell has built with this population of students and the difference his attention is making in their lives. “On average, Officer Winchell mentors about 13 junior and senior high school students daily to ensure they are attending their classes and getting their work done,” explained Reid. He goes on to explain that the data shows that at the end of the first marking period, 11 of 13 mentored students had successfully improved their grades in one or more of their classes. He attributes these students’ successes to Winchell’s caring nature.
While Delair may have entered the program begrudgingly at first, the results have spoken for themselves. His grades have improved significantly, by more than 20 percentage points. “I think that’s pretty good, considering how much I struggled with learning under COVID-19 restrictions,” Delair explained. “It was hard to work remotely.”
Winchell also works closely with all of the teachers to ensure the students he mentors are meeting class expectations and allows him to head off potential problems before they become severe. “It takes a team effort,” said Officer Winchell.
Delair said Winchell will stop at nothing to make sure the work gets done. “One time he [Officer Winchell] showed up at my house and told me to get to school; he has my cell phone number on speed dial,” Delair said with a smile. Knowing that someone is keeping an eye out for him and is invested in his success is a motivator for Delair to stay on the path to graduation.
The students in Officer Winchell’s Mentoring Academy are an eclectic group of young people, who may not typically socialize with each other. “It’s kind of fulfilling to see this group engaged in their school work and hanging out with each other,” said Officer Winchell.
The environment of the program is very comfortable. It’s quiet, secluded, and there are plenty of snacks. “The snacks keep them coming back,” joked Officer Winchell. He often runs to Sam’s Club on the weekends to pick up food and drinks to keep his students nourished and hydrated.
Recently, a community member nominated him for a Hero’s Award from the First Responders Children’s Foundation. Officer Winchell won the award and was given a $2,000 grant. These funds can be used for any items that benefit the students, including pens, paper, small prizes, and food.
Principal Reid said, “Travis exemplifies a true mentor.” The relationships he has fostered over the past three years with students will certainly stand the test of time.
When thinking about the future Delair said, “I think after graduation, I want to go to college to become a Physical Education teacher.”