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Mentoring program still seeking adults to help local students

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By Angye Morrison

The fledgling mentoring  initiative in the Gadsden County School District is off and running – but more mentors are needed.

Originally the brain-child of Erica Starling, director of personnel and staff development for the district, the program began as a way to prevent the more than 300 students at Carter-Parramore Academy from feeling separated from the rest of the district’s students and to enable them to return to their own schools and be academically successful.

“There are more than 330 students at CPA,” said Starling. “We didn’t want students to feel like they were dumped there and not a part of the district. Some of the kids at CPA are considered ‘no hope’ and  we don’t believe that. All the kids aren’t bad and that’s the biggest misconception.”

Starling said she related to the school and its students on a personal level. Her son also attended an alternative-type school, not because he was a discipline problem, but because he lacked motivation academically. She feels many of the students at CPA are in the same boat.

“I think there are probably a lot of students there who are the same way; just not motivated but good kids. I feel that often times, kids at that school get a bad rap,” she added.

So Starling did some research on social mentoring and found that students respond well to that type of programming. Piggy-backing a pilot program off the school’s “Dress for Success” program already in place, the mentoring initiative was born, and became a two-part program. The Dress for Success program requires students to dress their best for school each Wednesday.

“We wanted to try the program out; start small,” Starling said. “Twenty-three students were selected by teachers (at CPA) and are now matched with mentors.”

Those students will go on field trips throughout the school year, like a recent  trip to the Florida A&M University homecoming game and a tour of the FAMU campus, which took place this week.

The second part of the program involves the rest of the student body at CPA – students who also need mentors but, since funds are limited, those students won’t be able to attend the field trips. Starling is hopeful that will change as the program grows.

Those students will, however, benefit just as much from the program and from the relationships developed with their mentors. Campus-wide events will be held every other month, and in the months in between, the smaller group will be able to take field trips.

Since the program’s kickoff luncheon, held last month, Rosalyn Smith, dropout prevention coordinator for the district and mentoring program supporter, has received numerous calls from local residents asking to mentor a student.  This is something Starling finds exciting.

“We have a lot of people who already know a student and they’ve asked to mentor that student,” she said. “But there are many more who need mentors. Anyone interested can call Mrs. Smith and tell her they’re interested and, after passing a background check, they can become a mentor.”

Starling said it doesn’t take a lot of time to mentor a student – something as simple as a weekly phone call or some text messaging can make a difference in the life of a student. But she adds that many of the mentors are meeting weekly on campus with their students, something that is supported by CPA Principal Joe Lewis, who she says has been supportive of the program overall.

Starling is hopeful the program will not only grow at CPA, but spread throughout the district as well, covering all age groups, and not just high school students. This hope is shared by Superintendent Reginald James.

“Mentoring is something that has proven to be very effective with young people and certainly we want to encourage as many people from the community as possible to come out and mentor our young people,” he said. “We hope that will be the outcome of what we're doing at Carter-Parramore.”

James said district employees are setting the standard by becoming mentors themselves.

“We're taking the time to go over and mentor. We're not asking people to do anything we're not willing to do ourselves. We want to get it going ourselves and lead the way,” he said.

James encourages local businesses, church and civic organizations to become involved as well.   

For more information or to mentor a student, call 627-2760 to speak to Starling or Smith.

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