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Your Chamber at Work – Lessons Learning: The Power of a Mentor’s Touch 

Keith Boggs

Keith Boggs
Assistant Executive Officer
County of Stanislaus

Each one of us, at some point in our lives had a mentor. Perhaps it was a parent, a coach, a teacher or maybe a friend of family. These people helped to shape and guide us into the adults that we have become.

With the Stanislaus Employee Mentor program rolling through its sixteenth consecutive year, I often think about all of the young lives that our mentor adults have helped to inspire.

Why this need? Why this importance?

Schools throughout Stanislaus County continue to face attendance and dropout issues. Attendance is a prime indicator for predicting which students will drop out. Stanislaus County has one of the highest dropout rates in the state of California (23.6%). It is a local epidemic requiring a local, community driven solution to improve attendance. Compared to high school graduates, dropouts earn less wages, are more likely to commit crimes, more likely to be on welfare, less likely to be employed, more likely to raise children in a single parent home and are less physically and mentally healthy.

Schools also struggle to improve the reading and comprehension levels of many of their students. A large percentage of students within our communities have parents who only speak Spanish or who speak English less than very well and therefore, are unable to assist their child with reading or schoolwork. Today, as of this writing, nearly 29% of English learners drop out of school in Stanislaus County.

A Perfect Mentor Solution

In 1999, the Stanislaus County Chief Executive Office developed the Stanislaus County Employee Mentor Program to positively impact the lives of young people in our community by engaging County employees and partner agencies and organizations who desire to give back. Mentors give up their lunch hour to spend time with a struggling child.

Teachers and reading specialists from our partners at Modesto City Schools identify students, typically 3rd through 5th grade, requiring assistance with reading, and who have truancy problems, failing grades and the malaise of poor performance habits. The identified student/protégé is then assigned to an Employee Mentor Program team.

It is this team-based mentoring approach, consisting of up to 3 individuals who adopt a student for the school year that has been the instrument of our continued success. The mentor team rotates meeting times, acting as back up to one another should scheduling conflicts arise. Teams develop a master schedule and meet with their student at least twice per week for 45 minutes throughout the school year. All interaction occurs on the school campus to foster a caring, learning environment. Mentors use a volunteer journal to help facilitate communication between the team members and also to track the protégé’s progress week to week.

A basket with a variety of assigned books at the appropriate reading level is assigned to each student; however reading is not the only conduit in all situations and at every school site. Interaction is accomplished through a variety of activities including reading, coloring or educational games, all designed to engage the student in meaningful interpersonal interaction.

Our participating schools monitor the results of each student and track the hours and attendance of both mentors and protégés. County departments are represented by a site coordinator who meets with fellow site coordinators quarterly to discuss program, process updates, to disseminate information about the model and to act as liaison to County departments.

The process requires nominal time commitment and delivers huge social and academic dividends to each of our student protégés.

Education Realized: Sometimes in Uniquely Different Ways

The actual time one spends with a young person – either reading recreationally, playing a board game, tossing a ball around, or working on classroom related assignments, really isn’t the magic space within the mentor – protégé relationship.

The real magic is in the connection.

Spending time, listening – really listening, actively, and exhibiting the traits of success like timeliness, respect, civility, problem solving, caring and compassion – is the real educational gem born out of this approach.

Over the years I have taken great pride and pleasure in witnessing first hand the transformation of lives that is evidenced out of this powerful, educational process.

Here are some of the numbers that speak directly to the merit of youth mentoring:

The Employee Mentor Program has been instrumental in improving the attendance of participants; Increasing reading and comprehension levels are reported across all ages and grade levels;

• Individuals with mentors are 46% less likely to start using drugs;

• 33% are less likely to hit someone;

• 80% are less likely to commit a crime;

• 82% are less likely to skip a day of school, and;

• 27% are less likely to start drinking;

• Mentored students interact more with their peers and in classroom discussion and attendance issues are drastically diminished.

At John Muir Elementary School, one of our anchor sties, they have reported testing data reflecting a 62% improvement on standardized benchmarks, including an impressive 23% academic improvement beyond grade level expectation.

Fairview Elementary School reflects 100% of students engaged in the program showing a greater interest in reading and better participation in their respective classrooms.

Shackelford Elementary reports that 70% of mentored students have increased at least two reading levels over the past two performance cycles with 100% of their students having increased their personal confidence and critical self-esteem.

Everett Elementary School has reported up to 80% of protégés either achieving grade-level competency or excelling beyond the standardized benchmarks.

So What’s YOUR Role?

Simple. Join our mentor army, today! Take a lunch break from your lunch break this fall and join one of our mentor teams – or better yet, create your own (up to three person) team. Honestly, it will be the very best decision you make all year.

Call me and lets get started on changing the lives of our young people – one young person at a time. Surely you’d give up a lunch hour for that.

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