National Mentoring Month is recognized each January to focus attention on the need for and importance of mentors who volunteer their time to assure positive outcomes for young people. VBCPS is fortunate to have many individuals from the community, businesses, military, faith-based organizations and government agencies who mentor students in our schools. Their work will be highlighted on The Core throughout January.
“Rewarding” is how Chris Westerman describes his experience as a mentor to a Larkspur Middle School seventh-grader.
Westerman, a Mass Mutual financial advisor, began mentoring the student last school year after seeking an opportunity to model the adult support he received as a young boy. The two continue to meet weekly in the school’s library through the school’s PRIDE mentoring program. PRIDE stands for Persistence, Respect, Integrity, Dreams and Excellence.
“I spent the first four months just asking him about his life and listening,” Westerman said. “I think sometimes kids just need to spend time with an adult who will listen to them.”
Westerman credits the months of listening to helping him build trust with the student, and “then I was able to ask to see his homework and help hold him accountable for completing assignments and doing his best work,” he explained.
Westerman says now he sees pride from the student when he brings improved progress reports or report cards to a mentoring session.
Karen Clements, the Larkspur guidance counselor who established the PRIDE program last school year, said, “I can’t say enough about what Chris has done for this student. He is making such a positive difference in his life.”
Westerman acknowledges that schools cannot do their work alone.
“Each and every student needs someone to be their advocate,” he said. “They have great teachers and administrators, but the staff just doesn’t have enough time to spend one-on-one with enough kids. If a mentor would spend an hour a week with students, it could open up their eyes to a whole new world. Think about who influenced you when you were younger. If a CEO had come in to talk to you each week for a year, would your outlook on life be different? What about a librarian? How about an entrepreneur? Kids are like sponges, and the type of experiences they have can affect their life drastically.”
Larkspur mentor Sandra Jett hopes what her ShineGIRL participants experience is an increase in positive self-esteem. ShineGIRL is a personal development program sponsored by Wave City Care for female students in grades five through 12. Jett visits Larkspur throughout the year to deliver the nine-week afterschool program to each grade level.
“The first session is my favorite because it sets the precedent for the remaining sessions,” Jett explained prior to her first meeting with seventh-grade students. “We talk about self-worth and do activities that reinforce we are all valuable. I want the girls to know that no one can take away their value.”
During their time together, Jett and Larkspur teacher Anna Bailey ask student participants a question: How do you treat something that is valuable?
“With respect,” says one student.
“You take care of it. It’s special,” responds another.
“That’s right,” Jett answers. “Our value is linked to our very being. It does not have to be earned. You are valuable and matter just by being who you are.”
After a few activities to illustrate her point, Jett hands one female student a small gift box wrapped in shiny paper and hands a second student a crumpled, brown paper bag. The group watches as both students open the packages they received, each one revealing the same items – large, colorful gems.
“On the inside, we are all jewels,” Jett expounds. “There are gifts and talents we all have that are special. We rob the world when we try to be someone else because then no one will meet the real Addie or Leah or Natalie. Just like our fingerprints, no two of us are the same. We all have gifts and we all have value.”
Larkspur guidance department chair Stefanie Hall appreciates the mentors’ value to the students.
“I see our mentors moving students to better themselves,” she said.
Collaboration among the students is another benefit.
“They are working with others that they may not normally work with,” Hall said. “It’s good to see them come together as a group, work together and respect one another.”
Hall also works with mentor Charles Clark and the school’s Women of Valor/Men of Integrity group. Clark, a VBCPS graduate and one of Hall’s former students, meets with eighth-graders each week to discuss various topics such as financial literacy, time management, goal setting, business etiquette and decision making. At this afterschool session, Clark had invited two videographers to help the students produce an anti-bullying video they scripted together.
Hall knows the video experience and weekly sessions will leave a lasting, positive impression on the students.
“It gives them a sense of belonging,” she said, “which is very important at this age.”