One of our local community agencies started a program for students called Los Sabios. In English, that means the wise ones or the ones who know. The objective of the program was to provide a "wise" mentor for a student. Most of the students who were chosen for the program were children who either didn't have a parent or who were at high risk for gang activity. Each student who was interviewed and asked if they wanted to participate had permission from their legal guardian.
The program was held during school time and the only allowed visits were at school. The agreement was made with all concerned that the mentor could not visit the home or activities in which the student participated. The reason for that was that our major goal was to enhance the academic progress of the student and that was the focus of the meetings.
The mentors were trained, policies explained and meetings arranged for mentor and mentee. Because this was school time, the student schedule for meetings was chosen by their teacher in order to provide the least disruptive academic time. Also, because of the high liability in the public schools today, one on one meetings with students are held where at least one other person can view the meeting. So, the library, outside benches, counselor's office etc. became the meeting places.
Every relationship was different. For many of the students, rapport was difficult to establish because the children had been hurt by adults and did not trust people easily. We started with activities designed by the counselor to promote the relationship and the first thing the mentors offered was to help the student with their homework. Of course, many of the students refused this help and the counselor re-explained to the student that the purpose of the program was to help the student be successful in school. One of the first questionnaires for the student asked the question, how can I help you be a better student?
Results varied. Some relationships were so successful that the mentor met with the student for several years. But consistently, student attendance improved. Someone cared whether or not the student went to school.
As the school counselor, I worked with the students involved in Los Sabios in small groups . They talked about their mentors often and teachers and I frequently heard, "Mrs. or Mr. said......) so we knew that some information was being absorbed. The emotional issues most of these students carried were extremely difficult and the Los Sabios program was designed to be the academic component of their performance enhancement plan.
Because the program was unique, not like Big Brothers or Big Sisters, and focused only on academics, we didn't know if it would be successful. It was! Only one student did not progress during the school year and most of the student s gained more than one year's progress in reading and math. These were students who had not made this kind of academic progress previously. As the counselor, I watched students who had mentors also gain emotional resources, especially relating to problem solving. For most of these students, the only conflict resolution strategy they had was to fight. Mentors proposed other alternatives and taught the students things that most children are fortunate enough to learn at home.
As parent time decreases with students, often because parents have to hold more than one job to support their family, children 's learning experiences may decrease. These mentors provided the "grandparent" that many students did not have.
There is no greater gift to give another person than part of yourself. Mentors are desperately needed in the public schools today. Find the time! Most of these mentors saved a life.