Saturday, November 14, 2015

How you — yes, you! — can improve student grades through the power of love and a little time

Posted By on Sat, Nov 14, 2015 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge A mentor plays cards with a student at Snowdon Elementary School in the Cheney school district. - COMMUNITIES IN SCHOOLS
  • Communities in Schools
  • A mentor plays cards with a student at Snowdon Elementary School in the Cheney school district.

If you've read this week's story on the high number of homeless students you may be thinking, "That's rough, but what can I do to help?" 

Communities in Schools, the organization that connects community organizations to local schools, has spent years  answering that question. 

"I’ve worked in non-profits for 12 years," says Alise Mnati, Communities in Schools' program quality director. "I’ve never seen it this bad."

Fortunately, there's a way that you can actually make a difference. (They've studied it and everything.)

"We know that programs don’t help kids stay in school," Mnati says. "What helps kids stay in school is a positive adult role model."

Communities in Schools has a simple proposal: Become a student mentor. Spend an hour every school week — just 36 hours in the year — meeting with one at-risk student during lunch. In a sense, the job of a mentor is to be the student's coach, supporter and motivator.

Some mentors just talk with their students. Others will play computer games with their students. One mentor built a birdhouse for his student, and they painted it together. Another built a model train. One kid likes mystery novels. His mentor would buy mystery novels and they'd read them together, in a sort of two-person book club. 
At first, Mnati says, communication between mentor and student can be awkward. 

"There are lots of examples of kids who were really shy and wouldn’t talk," Mnati says. "Every adult in their life has let them down. They’re testing you. Are you really going to stick with me? Are you going to stick with me every week?"

But with time, the children begin to trust. Silence and patience can build trust. 

"Those kids have absolutely blossomed," Mnati says. "Now they’re talking all the time."

Students who struggle to attend school almost always make sure to show up on the day that their mentor arrives.

And Mnati doesn't just have anecdotal evidence that the mentoring works. She has stats. Despite these being the most high-risk students, most students show real signs of improvement.

- 83 percent met one or more academic goals
- 73 percent showed improved attendance
- 84 percent improved in reading
- 86 percent improved in math
- 87 percent showed behavioral improvements.

Mnati says several churches and businesses have already partnered with Communities in Schools' mentoring program. Costco mentors 20 students. Life Center mentors 50. And First Presbyterian mentors 20 Roosevelt Elementary students. 

The commitment, officially, is only a year. But in many cases, the mentors sign up again and again. Even if their students transfer schools, they drive across town to continue mentoring them. They stand on the sidelines during football games and cheer on their students.  

"The thing is, they fall in love with them," Mnati says. "Now the mentors, they’ll tell me, 'I’m going to be in the audience when my kid walks across the stage and graduates.'"

Find out how to get involved mentoring a Spokane or Cheney student here.
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