Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mentoring program brings positive outcome

Julian Cavazos / The Monitor
August 24, 2007

MISSION — The Mission school district is working to keep students from falling through the cracks.

The district received a new grant of $570,000 over the next three years for its mentorship program for at-risk students.

The program, about to begin its second year of full implementation, serves students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“It provides guidance by mentors so they’ll develop better relationships with their peers, teachers and family members,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who helped the district get the grant. “It will also help reduce the dropout rate.”

Though some school districts may disagree, Hispanics in Texas are said to have a high school dropout rate of 49 percent, much higher than the 27 percent for Anglos and 34 percent for blacks, Cuellar said.

At Alton Memorial Junior High School in Mission, mentors help students who failed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.

“I meet with mine during advisory period and we discuss the challenges of the test,” said Norma Vento, a testing strategist at the school. “We also do lessons on decision-making, conflict resolution and confidence building. I also review their attendance, grades and behavior.”

However, the district doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea about who needs mentorship.

“We aren’t saying they all come from bad homes,” Vento said. “Many come from wonderful homes. They just may have some things they’re struggling with academically.”

The district prefers the mentors be campus personnel such as elective teachers, coaches or counselors, who can provide the students with guidance and personal attention, said Superintendent Oscar Rodriguez Jr.

Each student has a mentor who stays with him through elementary school, a second one who follows him through middle school, and a third one who stay with him through graduation. The school district’s 1,200 to 1,500 mentors each have between one and five mentees, Rodriguez said.

Vento, who has five, said she has seen a difference in the students since she began working with them.

“It’s really had an impact on them,” she said. “There’s been an overall improvement of attendance and less failure overall in their classes.”

The simple display of caring on the part of the mentors toward their students makes all the difference to the children, Rodriguez said.

“If done correctly, we’ll see a difference in their child behavior,” he said. “They’ll be good students, citizens and productive, ready college graduates. We all like for people to care about us.”

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