On June 21, 1999, Governor Jeb Bush signed Florida’s A+ Plan for Education into law, beginning a systemic transformation that serves as a national model for raising student achievement. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this comprehensive strategy to improve public education, the Foundation for Florida’s Future is publishing a blog series featuring perspectives from the people that made it happen.
A Mentee’s Perspective on Florida’s A+ Plan
By: Steven McFarland
In 1999, I was just a shy fifth grader—and unbeknownst to me—full of potential. Several people played a key role in helping me realize my own potential and set me up for success later in life, including my mother, educators who went the extra mile, and my mentor, Lt. Governor Frank Brogan.
One afternoon, my mother sat me down after school and told me my fifth-grade teacher nominated me for the Governor’s Mentoring Initiative, and I was selected as the mentee of Mr. Brogan. I didn’t know who he was, much less how the bond we would share would impact my future.
Lt. Governor Frank Brogan talks with his mentee Steven McFarland and his sister Tiffany.
We started off meeting before school every Friday to go over schoolwork and talk about my academic goals. However, Mr. Brogan quickly realized that I wasn’t in need of a tutor; my grades were above average. What I did need was a friend and a positive role model, and he welcomed the opportunity.
To Mr. Brogan, being my mentor didn’t mean only asking me about grades and reading a few books. It meant being a listener and a teacher; counselor and a helper; and a consistent and positive role model who held me accountable for doing what was right.
Although I wasn’t necessarily considered underprivileged, I had plenty of friends who were. So, I was aware of the rare opportunity from which I had the pleasure of benefitting. My mother—a disciplinarian and a single parent—was very involved in my education and gave me a life full of love and support, but she also realized that I harbored anger triggered by my father’s absence. Luckily, my mentor helped to somewhat fill that void and I was able to let go of that anger.
My mentor felt it was important to not only hold me accountable for achieving good academic marks, but to help me enjoy life as a kid. We went to sporting events, museums, and one of our favorite spots to meet for breakfast was the Burger King across the street from my middle school.
Mr. Brogan was no ordinary mentor. He didn’t trade me in for a new mentee as I got older. Instead, we grew together, and I always had him in my corner and could depend on his sound advice. There are simple things in our friendship that I will forever remember because of the impact it had on my life, like when he bought me my first tie and showed me how to use it.
Mr. Brogan has been there to celebrate every accomplishment and milestone in my life from leaving elementary school to my college graduation, and he’s only a phone call or e-mail away for the advice I seek from him on occasion to this day.
My experience as his mentee was so rewarding that I wanted to do the same for someone else. Most recently, I mentored a student at an elementary school just a few miles from where I grew up.
Steven and Lt. Gov. Brogan ten years after the Governor’s Mentoring Initiative began.
To some people, being a mentor means many different things, but I believe I can speak for both Mr. Brogan and me when I say that being a mentor is about simply being a good person and inspiring another to do the same.