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Mentoring program links students, caring adults

February 15, 1999

mentor programBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




Brian Carter is the father of two children and the mentor of a third.

The 34-year-old delivery dispatcher visits Salem Avenue Elementary School once a week to spend his time with a student.

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He meets with an 8-year-old whose father is in jail. They read together, work on homework, play games and talk.

The boy's schoolwork has improved as a result. "I can see a difference in him," Carter said.

At first, he had to persuade the youngster to read a page, but now the boy reads entire books, Carter said.

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The child's scores have gone from the 50-percent range to as high as 90 percent, according to Carter.

He believes the one-on-one meetings cut down on distractions and made all the difference.

"The kids just need attention," Carter said.

Carter is one of 22 adults participating in the school's mentor program. The mentors serve as role models, surrogate parents, tutors and coaches.

For at least 45 minutes each week, they volunteer to help 23 youngsters.

"The program is just super," said Carter. "I'd like to see it picked up in other schools. If you don't get them off on the right foot in elementary school, you lose them."

Fountaindale Elementary started a similar program two years ago, said Principal Sue Gordon.

It started small, with about 10 mentors, but that number has grown to 40. "It's really taken off," she said.

Salem Avenue Curriculum Coordinator Carol Corwell-Martin first learned about mentor programs from a story she read in a magazine. After some research, she decided to start one.

"I saw using adults in the community as a natural way to support the education of our students," she said.

In November 1997, she went to the Washington County Commissioners and asked them to become mentors. Four of them agreed and seven Jaycees also joined the program, which began in January 1998.

The school pairs mentors with students who are "at risk" academically, Corwell-Martin said.

The kids might be failing for a number of reasons such as family situations or behavioral problems.

"We have many children who don't have father figures," she said.

Joann Rider, 67, mentors a first-grade student and enjoys encouraging her to read, she said.

The little girl "is almost like a substitute grandchild," she said.

Like other mentors, Carter has grown close to his student. "He asks me almost daily to take him home," he said.

Former County Commissioner John Shank took a second-grade student to his home for a day last fall. They did chores together and built a fence.

"He saw first-hand what we have to do to work on a farm. He enjoyed it," Shank said. "I let him steer the tractor. That tickled him. He hadn't done that before."

Shank said he felt like the boy was another grandson. In the evening, they ate a meal together.

"We just treated him like he was one of our kids for a day," he said.

Shank meets with two students for 45 minutes each Monday. He helps one with math and the other with reading. Shank said they look forward to his visits.

"I think it's a good program ... it's interesting and fun," he said.

"What's been so great about this was the benefit not just to students but adults," said Corwell-Martin. "It's a win-win for everybody."

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