Racial, Gender Imbalances Raise Hurdles for Mentor Program

By Zlatos, Bill | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 12, 2012 | Go to article overview

Racial, Gender Imbalances Raise Hurdles for Mentor Program


Zlatos, Bill, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Seventh-grader Kamiya Manns played cat's cradle and made jewelry out of yarn and beads with her mentor, Wendy Urbanic, at Pittsburgh Classical Academy in Greenway.

It's the second year the two have met weekly at the academy as part of the Be a 6th Grade Mentor program of United Way of Allegheny County and Pittsburgh Public Schools, and the two exude an easiness together. Urbanic, 46, of Mt. Washington said the two had to work through their differences in race -- she is white, and Kamiya is black -- and their 34-year gap in age.

"It took longer than I expected," Urbanic said. "Last year we were being kind of cautious. We didn't know what to expect. This year it felt great to be reunited."

Seventy-five percent of the mentors in the program are white, and 70 percent of the students are black; 64 percent of mentors and 53 percent of the students are female.

Despite the differences in race and the shortage of male mentors, a recent study by the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research Development Center shows 75 percent of the youths said the mentoring experience was "highly positive, youth-centered, stimulating and encouraging."

"It's a challenge for a number of mentoring organizations," said Damon Bethea, mentoring project director for United Way. "It's the nature of the activity of what we do. For a number of men, if it's not structured around a number of things that interest them,, like sports or physical activity, then they may not be as interested in mentoring with us."

Currently, mentors ask students about their grades, homework and attendance and what they want to do after they graduate from high school. Mentors and students play board games such as Battleship, but do not get together outside class unless they are in a separate mentoring program.

Kamiya, 12, said Urbanic is "like a sister."

"She's a person who you can communicate with," the student said. "We talk about my future."

Kamiya would like to become a fashion designer.

Bethea said the program has 315 students in grades 6-8 in eight schools, and he is working with the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh to expand it to University Prep, the former Milliones Middle School and Westinghouse High School 6-12. The program would then add enough mentors to serve 400 students.

Mentor: The National Mentoring Partnership estimates that 3 million children between the ages of 6 and 18 have mentors. …

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