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‘A better side of me wanted to come out and wanted to stay out’

Custodian turned mentor helps third-grader thrive


Originally Published May 28, 2019

Pedro ‘Petey’ Benda does maintenance and custodial work for the school district, keeping up with an endless to-do list. But he also saves time each day at Gladiola Elementary for something that has become a priority — 15-minute conversations with third-grader Blake Hudson.

At the request of Principal Cheryl Corpus, Benda, a 2014 Wyoming High School graduate, is Blake’s informal mentor, a consistent person to help him start his day.

“He can talk about whatever he wants,” said Benda. “Since the beginning of the year to now, there’s been progress. He doesn’t act out as fast; he thinks and doesn’t make bad decisions.”

Pedro ‘Petey’ Benda has made mentoring a priority during his busy day as a custodian

Benda, who struggled himself with behavior in school, has taught Blake how to take deep breaths, count and calm down before reacting when upset. Blake said Benda helps him have “golden days”, which he explained as “when the day goes really well for me.” And if things go really well, Benda brings doughnuts or Taco Bell.

“In beginning of the school year, I wasn’t used to third grade, so when I started meeting with (Benda) I started to change,” Blake said. “It felt like a better side of me wanted to come out and wanted to stay out.”

At first, Benda, who lives in Comstock Park with his wife and infant daughter, said he wasn’t sure how to have to be a mentor for Blake. So he took small steps, having Blake jot down quotes in his notebook to reflect on. Adages include “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself” and “Nothing is particularly hard if you break it down into small jobs.’

Corpus said it’s staff members like Benda that can make a difference in students’ lives just by being a positive presence.

Blake Hudson said his mentor, Pedro (Petey) Benda, helped him handle third grade

“I see Petey willing to go the extra mile for our students. He doesn’t need to do this, but he takes 10-15 extra minutes every day for his mentoring,” Corpus said. “Blake looks forward to it every day, and it’s that ability to transition into the school-day knowing that an adult cares for him (that helps). He feels a part of the community, and he’s going back to his learning and finding success.”

For Benda, he’s learned that whether they are talking about sports, schoolwork or any other topic, just being there for Blake is what matters.

“When it comes to Blake, I’m not the best at advice but I think just being a person who will listen to him is important. That’s my main thing — just to be here. I always want to be consistent, to be consistently here.”

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SNN article: 15 minutes once a week can make a difference

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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