Mentoring may boost enthusiasm for learning

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By Donald Richie

A new program has been established to help kids remain interested in learning through the crucial shift from elementary to middle school.

The Harrison County school system has teamed up with the Harrison County Community Foundation to form a mentoring program for children in fourth and fifth grades.

After foundation member Doreen Wisener went to superintendent Dr. Roy Woodward with the idea for the program, Woodward tapped the skills of elementary supervisor of instruction Cindy Hill and secondary supervisor of instruction Jenny Lynn Hatter.

[Wisener] was very concerned that there are kids out there who are very excited in elementary school about learning and education, Hill said. And somewhere, they lose that enthusiasm in middle and high school.

For Hill, a former elementary principal, Wiseners concerns brought out images.

When she said that, I started seeing faces in my mind - kids who I knew that worked really hard in elementary school, who were really excited about learning and for one reason or another they just lost that enthusiasm, she said.

Woodward, Wisener, Hill and Hatter got together and brainstormed ideas. Southside Elementary was chosen as the pilot school at Wiseners suggestion, Hill said.

Also on board for the project are foundation member Jane Thomas and Southside counselor Mia Wright, who will serve as a liaison.

Hill said Wrights involvement was a huge asset in getting the program off the ground.

The group came up with Empowering the Potential (ETP), which Hill said is designed to connect a student with a community member. That community member could offer experiences which may have some relevance in the childs life.

Potential mentors were invited to a luncheon in October 2007. Students and families had an orientation session that month as well.

From those two meetings, 10 mentors and nine students volunteered. The students are from the fourth and fifth grades.

We targeted children who worked really hard, had average to above average grades and whose parents are supporting them, Hill explained of the selection process, noting that the project is designed to help parents find answers to questions as well.

Training was held for mentors in November and a meet-and-greet was held in December to establish the pairings.

Hill pointed out ETP is a school-based mentoring program, not to be confused with other offerings such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

Any contact they have will either be within the school setting or at an activity that is sponsored by the school and school personnel will be there, she said.

The idea is for the mentors to visit with students on a bi-weekly basis. On top of that, the group is trying to plan monthly field-trip type outings.

For example, the group went to the Freedom Center in Cincinnati on Jan. 19.

Other ideas being considered are trips to Frankfort to witness state government in operation, attending a college-sponsored activity and involvement in a local community project.

The experience should offer mentors a chance to bring community involvement - something which is frequently discussed in the public - to a new generation, Hill explained.

This is really a hands-on way for them to become involved, she said.

Next year, Hill said they would like to pair another nine or 10 students and maybe branch out to the other schools. That, of course, will require more mentors.

As the word gets out there, maybe there will be people who will be interested in being a part of this, she said. Its a really good way to touch the future and spend time with a young person.