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Communities in Schools Mentoring is a golden opportunity

Resource type: News

Montgomery Herald |

Montgomery Herald

Communities in Schools is an Atlantic grantee.

by Linda Beaulieu

The Golden Opportunity Mentoring Program truly is a golden opportunity for the 83 youngsters in grades four through eight who currently have mentors. CIS records from last school year provide hard evidence of success, with 44 percent of enrolled students increasing their grade averages and 29 percent with improved school attendance. But numbers don’t tell the whole story by a long shot.

Alva Crump and Mt.Gilead fifth grader Shayla McKinnon were paired last October and have been meeting at school for an hour or so weekly since then. Shayla, who had been having some trouble getting along with others at school, wasn’t too sure about Crump when they first met. “But by the way she acted and how sweet she was, I knew she wasn’t just some old lady with a cane,” Shayla says, with a mischievous grin.

“Afterwards, Shayla said she hoped she hadn’t hurt my feelings,” Crump responds. “I laughed, and now it’s one of my fondest memories. It doesn’t matter if you’re old and walk with a cane, you can still help a child.”

Shayla explains that she and Crump take walks, do puzzles and games and look at art books because she loves drawing and wants to be an artist and art teacher someday. “But mostly it’s just things we want to talk about, the seasons, our outlook on life, the point why we’re all here, how everybody has a partner in life that changes their life completely. She’s mine, it’s sisterhood,” says the now poised and self assured young lady.

“She’s like my second mom. She’s made me more focused and has pushed me a lot. I know this lady really loves me and I want to show her I’m the girl she thinks I am.”

Crump thought about becoming a mentor for a while before actually getting involved. “Now, it’s something I look forward to every week; it’s an uplifting experience,” she says. “Not only are you getting something good from it, hopefully you’re giving this young person your experience and some hope for the future. I’ve found a new friend and I see us being friends for forever.”

Mentor Julia McBride worked pairing socks at Clayson Knitting for 32 years and volunteers in an after school program at BelfordBaptistChurch. Her pastor encouraged her to attend a meeting when the program was getting under way.

“Everybody kept saying the same things: people want to help kids and kids need help,” she recalls. She’s been Candor Elementary fifth grader Kimberly Wall’s mentor since January 2008.

‘When I first met Kimberly, she was shy and wouldn’t talk much, but she’s come a long way,” McBride says. She took Kimberly out to eat for her birthday and has given her small gifts for Christmas and birthday. ”I think she just likes the extra attention,” but mainly they spend their time talking about things Kimberly likes, clothes, Bratz dolls.

Kimberly says she does OK in school. “I like to read and I like poetry but math is hard,” she says. “She helps me with my math and gave me a print out with all the times tables on it.”

“Kimberly also talks about animals all the time and how she wants to be a vet and we talk a lot about how she needs to buckle down on her school work to do that,” McBride explains. “She’s a really sweet child; she just needs a little extra love and kindness and I think she just likes having someone come to see her by herself at school.”

McBride knows that if she can make a difference, anyone can. “It’s only an hour a week and for anybody that’s got the time and wants to help kids it’s a good opportunity,” she says. “Sometimes you just have to make time to do these things. It’s not difficult or hard and everybody’s friendly and nice.”

In mid April, West Middle School seventh grader Sara Garner was looking forward to the Beta Club’s trip to Washington, D.C. at the end of the month. In sixth grade, when she was struggling in school, that seemed like an impossible dream.

“Mr. DesChamps (CIS mentoring coordinator at Page Street and West Middle) talked to me about the program. He said it’s fun, like Big Brother or Big Sister,” Sara says. Then, along came her mentor, Mary Kirk.

Kirk and Sara worked together on Sara’s science project, planting flowers and cucumber seeds and putting the cups in different environments, but mostly they just have fun, going to the movies, to lunch, watching TV at Kirk’s house, and coming up with wild recipes to try out. When Kirk can’t make their weekly visit, they talk on the phone.

Sara explains the plan she and Kirk agreed on, for Sara to study one hour a day even when she doesn’t have homework. And each grading period when Sara’s grades go up, they have a special outing.

“It’s been worth the extra work. My grades have skyrocketed and I even made Beta Club. I probably wouldn’t have done it without a mentor. I just get lazy sometimes and don’t like doing school work,” says the young lady who someday hopes to be a lawyer.

“It’s been amazing to watch her when her grades started to come up. She would be so proud when she called about her grades and talked about how much easier school is now that the teachers are praising her,” says Kirk. “They figure out they can do this school thing.”

Like the other mentors, Kirk encourages others to get involved. “I’ve learned as I get older that children need to know there are people out there for them. It doesn’t really matter what education you have. If you take an hour a week to show a child you care, it will make a difference.”

Star Elementary principal Vance Thomas has seen the difference at his school. “We see students with mentors come out of their shell and can see changes in students’ ability to socialize and grow academically. It really goes back to another person behind this student, knowing that they care.”

According to Heather Wallace, CIS executive director, teachers and counselors recommend students for the mentoring program for various reasons, poor academics or attendance, issues with behavior, socialization or a negative attitude about school. Some may be at risk of being held back or have older siblings who dropped out of school.

“The biggest misconception is that this is a tutoring program, it’s not,” says Wallace. “This is about a support system, spending time talking, sharing stories, listening, playing games or going for a walk.”

And the need for more mentors is great, 57 children are still on the waiting list. “The biggest thing breaking our hearts is when we go into the schools and kids come up and ask ‘where’s my mentor,’” Wallace says. “Kids need and want these mentors in their lives. They want their own person to come see them and this is straight from the kids’ hearts.”

Mentee Shayla McKinnon knows this is true. One of her school friends asks all the time if Crump can be his mentor. “He said he wants her, but she’s mine. He can’t have her,” she says.

Says Sara Garner, “They should sign up. It will help a lot of people. Kids are waiting for them and they need help really bad.”

Training to be a mentor is simple, taking about an hour, and can be done individually or in a group. “We’re very flexible,” says Wallace. Although the school year is drawing to a close, mentors can still train for the coming school year.

Make the call, and help make a difference in one child’s life. 

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