Professionals Add Mentoring Kids to Job Description as Programs Spread, Adults Find Rewards Too

By Nicole Gaouette, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 1997 | Go to article overview

Professionals Add Mentoring Kids to Job Description as Programs Spread, Adults Find Rewards Too


Nicole Gaouette, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Every Monday, just before lunch, Nina Charney escapes the shrill telephones at the office and heads back to junior high school.

She and 29 other members of Team Fleet, the Boston bank's volunteer corps, spend their lunch hour with East Boston Catholic Central's eighth-graders, going over homework and tests, talking, and simply being there.

"Kids understand expectations," says Ms. Charney, sitting at a round, kid-sized library table with Nilisha Mohammed, a bubbly young teen. "If they believe they can do something, I really believe they will. It can be a simple matter of showing them what else is out there." The program that brings Charney and Nilisha together is sponsored by Mentoring USA, an early intervention program designed to help middle school kids by improving their self-esteem, broadening their vision of opportunities, and encouraging them to succeed. In a quiet but significant shift in policy, mentoring programs like Fleet's have become an integral part of education reform in the last few years, as educators and communities across America have focused on partnerships with corporations and community as the key to improving education. Help needed "There's been a recognition by {Education} Secretary {Richard} Riley that schools can't do it alone," says Margarita Colmenares of the US Department of Education (DOE). "Improving education requires the whole community." With more children in single-parent families or living below the poverty line, advocates say the presence of an interested and concerned adult can help kids maneuver the shoals of drug use, truancy, and gang membership, and achieve. "Twenty years ago everybody had a number of mentors," says Thomas Evans, author of "Mentors: Making a Difference in Our Public Schools." "But middle America has changed, teachers and coaches are overloaded, the need is so much more." Partnerships between schools and corporations have existed since the 1800s. Recently , however, they have evolved from arrangements based on disinterested financial support to greater engagement, says the DOE's Ms. Colmenares. "What's different is that they're trying to find ways to support academic reform and accountability," she says. Government attitudes have changed as well, says Daniel Merenda, president of the National Association of Partners in Education. "Partnerships have been very much a bipartisan strategy," he says. "It began with the Reagan administration ... but the thing Clinton has done is rather than create more programs, he's woven requirements for partnerships into education legislation." Secretary Riley launched the DOE's campaign, "America Goes Back to School: Get Involved," in September 1996, drawing the involvement of major companies like General Electric and United Airlines. …

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