When Cobb County Schools received an $8.5 million federal grant in 2008, the program Success for All Students was created. Under that umbrella, services like school-based mental health, in-home family support and drug and alcohol prevention began to be offered throughout the county.
Matt Yancey, project manager for Success for All Students, says that about a year and a half ago the community began giving feedback that the program could be of help in creating a school-based mentoring program. “The schools are just often challenged on how do we bring volunteers in on an ongoing basis, on a permanent basis that help work with us and support education,” he says. “And other school districts throughout the nation have been able to do that through mentoring.”
In 1995, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) did an impact study on the effects of mentoring relationships for students. Through a selection process, the organization interviewed a pool of students and randomly decided their eligibility for a mentor, placing the remaining students in a control group waiting list for 18 months. After 18 months, interviews were held with both groups to determine the effects. Some major findings were that mentored students felt more capable of completing assignments, had moderate improvement in their grade point averages, were 46 percent less likely to begin drug use and 27 percent less likely to begin consuming alcohol.
With these results in mind, it’s clear why Cobb County wanted to design their own mentoring program. Yancey notes that many schools in the district tried to jump-start their own programs, but lacked the resources or infrastructure to maintain them. With their feedback, Success for All Students created Cobb Mentoring Matters in July 2011 so that every school had the opportunity to offer mentoring. “Through the creation of it we’ve really streamlined the recruitment process, the background checking process, the training and professional development of mentors,” Yancey says.
What Makes It Unique?
Two aspects of Cobb Mentoring Matters make it stand out: it’s mentor-riven and school-based. The program focuses on recruiting at the front end, according to Yancey, so a large number of students aren’t identified without also receiving a mentor. “At that point—if someone in the community wants to mentor a child at, say, Argyle Elementary School—they go through the process and then through our partnership with the school social workers, [and] school counselors at Argyle. We let them know who the mentor is, kind of what their personality is, what their background is and then they identify a child from that end,” he explains.
Maryellen Gomes, mentor coordinator, says she typically has two conversations with the parent before setting up a date for the mentor and student to meet. On the introduction date, Gomes addresses any last minute concerns and reviews the orientation packet. Then the mentor will come in and have a chance to meet the parent before being introduced to the child.
Mentors have the choice of what age group they would like to mentor as well as what school, giving community volunteers the opportunity to mentor at a school they feel connected to. Gomes says the program asks for a commitment of one hour per week for one school year.
The program falls under the distinction of school-based mentoring (SBM) because the mentor and the student meet on school grounds during school hours. In a 2007 BBBSA impact study, SBM was regarded as the fastest growing form of mentoring because it is based on a simple concept that parents and teachers agree with: requires little time on the part of school staff is inexpensive and is relatively easy to implement. The study found that after one year of SBM, students made significant changes in the classroom, as the mentoring was done on school grounds and the chances of discussing school-related topics was higher than students who participated in community-based mentoring. BBBSA also noted that mentored students performed better than non-mentored students in the areas of overall academic performance, quality of classwork, number of assignments completed and serious school infractions.
The Mentor/Mentee Relationship
The age of mentors ranges from 20–80 and includes police officers, school district employees and community members.
Students vary in the personal needs they require from a mentor. Gomes clarifies it’s not always a behavioral issue that warrants having a mentor. Students may need assistance with academics, communication skills, peer relationships or may have recently lost a parent and need a listening ear. “I call it push, pull and lift,” she says. “It depends on what you will need on that day for that student because it’s going to be different.”
Gomes says one boy who was referred had a problem with authority even though he came from an intact family. So they paired him with a police officer. “So you know it’s being real creative in how we match and really just trying to get right to the core of what’s going on with that student,” she says.
Overall, becoming a mentor is simple, and Gomes wants it to be a seamless process. “The only criteria is that you have a heart to serve, that you want to be involved in your community [and] you want to make a difference in your community,” Gomes explains.
The Impact on Students
Yancey and Gomes are currently waiting on an official evaluation of their project from the Georgia State University Foundation, but based on information from mentors, students and parents, feedback has been positive.
“This February we’ll actually be able to run data … to see if there have been decreases in discipline events, in truancy, absenteeism,” Yancey says. “So we’ll have a really good understanding … what impact this had on those type of outcomes, but anecdotally speaking, I think we’re often provided information from parents and from the mentors themselves.”
Recently Gomes made a phone call to a mother to notify her that her son and his mentor would need to meet on a different day, and the mother talked to Gomes about the progress her son has made. “She said, ‘Ms. Gomes, I just have to tell you my son has not done a 100-degree turn, he’s done a 300-degree turn,’” she recalls.
As the 2012–13 school year begins, Cobb Mentoring Matters gives the community an outlet to become involved and empower students. Students are able to receive the individual attention they need to pave a road for themselves to a brighter future.
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