Volunteers hope to boost mentoring

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

To start the school year right, are residents who have volunteered as mentors in the schools gathered recently in hopes of lifting that program to the next level.

In the brief training session, mentors reviewed the Connections Mentoring Program Handbook and learned of available resources and training options.

The program is sponsored under a grant obtained by the Prevention Department of the Northwest Iowa Alcohol Drug and Treatment Unit and operates in conjunction with Storm Lake CommUNITY Education.

Pat Cowan, CE director, said the mentors are being recruited from all facets of the community.

The program is directed toward students in the kindergarten through fourth-grade after-school program now in its fifth year with 450 students. Seven students were matched with mentors last year, and Cowan said it will take continual effort to reach the goal of 25 mentor-student pairs.

Students are referred to the mentoring program for any of a number of reasons. Students who want to participate in the program are also eligible to apply.

Before mentors are approved, there are stringent background checks. In the mentor-student selection process, Cowan and Johnson discuss both applicants and students to determine suitability. "We try to make the best match possible," Cowan said. "The important thing is that they work. We want the mentors to be good role models for the kids."

Mentors are asked to devote one hour a week with their students. The mentor may help the student with homework, play games, or just talk. The important thing is that the student has an adult role model with whom the student can share feelings in a non-threatening environment. All mentoring sessions take place at the various elementary schools the students attend.

The mentor retention rate has been outstanding since the program started last spring. The only two original mentors who are not participating this year dropped out because they have moved away.

Cowan said one student who is now in fifth grade has asked and will be allowed to continue meeting with his mentor.

Mentors vary from retirees to local business and government leaders such as Todd Hudspeth, CEO at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center and Storm Lake City Administrator John Call. "He's been a great spokesperson for our program," Cowan said of Hudspeth.

While it is not required that mentors meet parents, most mentors choose to make it a point to meet parents or teachers. All mentoring sessions occur on school property.

"Research shows that mentoring is a very positive relationship for kids," Cowan said. "Mentoring enhances academic success and improves student social interaction."

Mentors may choose to incorporate the Character Counts program into mentoring sessions. "The character education is a big component of all this," Cowan said.

Mentors do not have to wait long to be matched with a student. Cowan said mentors can start any time during the school year.

Mentoring is not limited to the grade-school level. Cowan said the Tornado Learning Club after-school program run by Buena Vista University students has had resounding success. It is supervised by Storm Lake Middle School After-School Director Donna Queen.

Those who want to become mentors may call Cowan at 732-5711 or Cindy Johnson at 749-5169.

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