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Parters in Education: Mentoring on the Rise

Parters in Education: Mentoring on the Rise

Adults Tim Bailey, right, and Edward Merida talk with Chaffin Junior High students regularly in the school library, spending an hour together.

Just the Guys:

Mentoring can make a difference, especially with young men

Each year, this magazine gives our readers a glimpse of the Partners in Education program of Fort Smith Public Schools, now in its 34th year.

Under the umbrella of the Partners program, businesses, civic organizations and individuals volunteer time or contribute in different ways to help students in every Fort Smith public school.

The success of this broad program, which has been studied and awarded regionally and nationally, is in its diversity. There is no cookie-cutter model for a partnership. From simple donations of supplies or funds to the gift of volunteer labor to build a playground, every partnership is unique and each one is appreciated.

We ask the school district each year to point our writer toward an innovative or particularly effective partnership. “Mentoring” was the immediate response this year of Zena Featherston Marshall, the district’s director of communications and community partnerships.

A mentor is a person who shares knowledge and experience with another, less-experienced person to help them with personal development. It is a somewhat informal, social relationship based on talking together frequently to build trust and mutual respect.

Within the Partners in Education program, mentoring is on the rise, Marshall said. There are many mentoring relationships ongoing this year, between women with young women and girls, and men with young men and boys. None of them are exactly the same nor are they required to be identical.

All mentor/student meetings at schools are monitored by school staff to ensure mutual respect, positive communication and safety.

Some relationships are structured as one adult with very small groups of students. In several schools, a team of mentors interacts with groups of students and then breaks off to talk one-on-one for a part of the time they have together.

Mentors have spent more than a collective 3,000 hours this year engaged with students, Marshall said. The school district looks for ways to validate the resources of time and energy now being given by volunteers, by understanding how and why this is having a positive effect on kids.

“Mentoring was kind of a fad in the 1990s,” Marshall said. “We tried it, but it began to fade away.”

In the last few years, the idea of adults focusing quiet attention on one or two students emerged again and this time, parents, teachers, administrators, students and mentors themselves are finding the process to be valuable.

As educators, teachers and administrators naturally want to understand why mentoring yields good results for students – so they can support the practice and especially so they can teach more, new mentors how to do it. The district has learned how to provide more resources to support mentors.

Mentoring is especially effective between men and boys, the school district has noted. Grades, conduct and attitudes of the mentees improve. We talked with male mentors, students and administrators at two schools where good results are evident to see how their programs are different or similar. One is a bit traditional, the other more creative and adaptive.

Both are absolutely inspiring.

Read about effective mentoring program in two Fort Smith public schools:

At Chaffin Junior High, the guys hang out, talk and keep the interactions low-key.

At Spradling Elementary, a mentor follows a model from his own life experience.

This article appears in the May 2015 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online