While her sons have attended Cotswold Elementary School, Alison Busch has been an active volunteer.
Busch, 41, has tutored children in her sons’ classes (Thompson, 10, is a fourth-grader and Myers, 13, and Graham, 11, are now at Randolph Middle School) and served as the PTA president. But it is her current role as the PTA’s Mentor Program coordinator that she thinks has the greatest impact.
In the fall of 2011, Busch teamed with Tara Bowers, 45, the school counselor for third- through fifth-graders and Principal Alicia Hash, 36, and Assistant Principal Marsha Mullins, 50 to create a mentoring program for at-risk boys at the school. The HYPE (Helping Youth Pursue Excellence) Mentoring Program is now in its fourth year.
“I definitely feel like the partnership of parents, community, school and students is what creates a school of excellence and creates the synergy that allows students to be successful,” Hash said. “The stronger your support system for children, the better the path for successful outcomes.”
In its first year, 10 at-risk African-American boys were identified who struggled emotionally and academically and were not as successful as their white counterparts. Another qualifying feature was not having an active father in the home.
Busch and Bowers then recruited 10 adult male mentors through the school’s newsletter and by reaching out to community partners and local men’s groups.
They had both the boys and the mentors fill out profile forms and then matched them according to shared interests.
“Sports is a huge connection,” said Bowers.
The boys meet with their mentors once each week during their lunch hour, although many also do things with them outside of school hours, such as attending sporting events or going out for a meal together.
The mentors not only expose them to events and experiences in the community, but they are there to support the mentees when they participate in things such as school performances and athletic events.
And when certain needs are identified, such as winter coats or school supplies, “the mentors step in and help,” Bowers said.
Many also provide additional tutoring to the boys.
“The mentors are not asked to tutor the boys as part of their mentoring,” Bowers said, “but some do. And some boys now request it.”
Busch is touched by the strength of some of the relationships that have formed as a result of the mentoring program.
“I am sure they will be a part of each others’ lives forever,” she said.
“Mentors are actually recruiting other mentors now,” Bowers said.
The program has grown and evolved since its 2011 inception. There are now 30 pairs of boys and mentors, and the program has now been extended to 15 girls and women mentors as well. The foundation is still the same, but the focus is now on fourth- and fifth-graders.
Another new development is the formation of a school basketball team that is comprised exclusively of boys in the mentoring program.
“The program has evolved every year, but this piece just clicked and brought it all together,” Busch said.
“With basketball, there is more accountability,” Hash said. “The boys have to do certain things in the classroom in order to be able to play a sport.”
The boys dress up on game day (white dress shirts and bow ties were donated by the school community) and the first game was standing room only, with the gym adorned with banners the teachers made.
Another offshoot of the mentoring program is the “Give Back Program” in which fifth-grade mentees are now mentors to kindergarten and first-grade students.
“Another spin off,” said Hash, is that “there is more of a male presence at Cotswold events and at lunch.”
“We have matched over 850 kids,” Bowers said. “We have been able to capture those most at risk.”
She said that there have been no formal assessments of success, but there is plenty of informal evidence the mentoring program has made a difference.
“Students used to be in the office a lot and I haven’t seen them in a few years,” Hash said. “We have seen a lot of growth academically and with their behavior.”
“A lot of things have evolved from this mentoring program,” Hash said.
“It’s like the giving tree,” Mullins said. “So much has stemmed from this one seed.”
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.