April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Partnership pairs elementary kids with high school mentors

By By Paul [email protected]

Referrals are coming in quickly for a mentoring program that pairs troubled elementary school children with high school role models.

The partnership, called In-Flight Assistance, is unique in that it takes advantage of the physical connection between Hope Elementary School and Hauser Jr./Sr. High School, said Polly Trotter, the elementary school's social worker and program founder.

She said high school volunteer students and their elementary school charges will work out a time based on their individual schedules for one-on-one mentoring that can include anything from shooting basketballs to working jigsaw puzzles. Their choices of activities will be tailored to the needs of the elementary school children, some of whom just need to talk to people who care.

The program's official launch is in about two weeks. Trotter said that gives her time to gather remaining applications from prospective mentors and train them in their responsibilities, like focusing on each child's positive aspects instead of the negative ones.

Some teams are already meeting because of special circumstances.

So far, Trotter likes what she sees.

"I'm excited to get this going," she said. "Like every school, Hope elementary has its share of at-risk students who need role models."

Positive mentoring can have powerful effects on young people in personal, academic and professional situations, according to the National Mentoring Partnership. The organization claims that mentored children are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college, 78 more likely to volunteer regularly and 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions than their non-mentored peers.

Trotter, a former Hope physical education teacher, said she came up with the idea for the program a few years ago when she noticed younger students and older students interacting in the school gymnasium. She remembers the elementary children's wide-eyed admiration as they watched the bigger students shoot baskets, clearly impressed by them and just happy to be in their company.

She wanted to model the program after Big Brothers Big Sisters, a national initiative that pairs students of different ages with adult mentors. But she knew her program would be different, for the simple fact that it would take advantage of the unique synergy that comes from Hope Elementary School and Hauser Jr./Sr. High School occupying the same building on Highway 9.

This school year, Hope Elementary hired Trotter as its new social worker. That gave her the chance to turn her dream into reality.

And the program is proving an early success.

Trotter said adult staff members -- mostly teachers -- at the elementary school referred 28 students to the program as of Thursday. She said some of those staffers selected students with chronically poor attendance. Others selected students with poor grades.

The reasons go on and on.

Barry Grimes, a sixth-grade teacher who referred some of those students to the program, said he knows for a fact that mentoring works.

"In some of my previous teaching experiences, I had students partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters program and saw some students benefit greatly from those relationships," he said. "I believe many students come to school consistently with some obstacle or hurdle looming right in front of them."

But he added that the program benefits do not end with their effect on the elementary students.

"The mentors gain leadership experiences," he said. "The 'mentees' gain self esteem. Teachers gain an ally in reaching students."

Each student's circumstances will be considered when pairing him with a high school mentor, Trotter said. She said 21 prospective mentors had applied as of Thursday, and all will undergo in-house background checks to make sure they fit criteria.

Assuming they are approved, one of the only other needs will be to make sure the children and mentors have a place to meet. Hope Principal Jessica Poe has cleared out a room at the elementary school where old computer desks are being converted to two-seat tables. Those tables are perfectly suited for multiple one-on-one student teams who want to talk or bond in other ways.

"I've been collecting board games and card games and books for them to use," Trotter said.[[In-content Ad]]