Wicomico mentoring goals: 1,000 adults to help kids

Mentoring in Wicomico County schools continues this year, with a new approach and higher goal of recruiting 1,000 adults to guide and encourage students.

The idea is to match mentors with each of the county’s 15,000 pupils so they can model good behavior and uphold educational and career choices.

Called Mentoring Ala Carte, the 2015-16 board of education-sponsored program is offering several options for those willing to help.

Volunteers can participate in one or several of them, explained Mark Thompson, coordinator for equity assurance and student mentoring for the board of education.

They can have breakfast or lunch with students, help with the STEM program, speak to classes or spend one-on-one quality time with them.

By getting involved in Play 60, volunteers will set an example for smart eating habits and good health.

“We’re trying to encourage people to go in the morning to eat breakfast with the kids, to show them nutritional eating, to drink milk. We want them to come and eat breakfast and model appropriate behaviors,” Thompson said.

Or, they can join youngsters at lunchtime and be seen with a healthful plate.  “Eat vegetables, get some carrots, things like that,” Thompson said.

Those who choose to speak can address classes through the Maryland Scholars Speaker program.

“You encourage kids by talking to a class and telling them to achieve in school, to take math, to study English and how it pays off when you go to college. They will talk about how they made it in their careers,” Thompson said.

Mentors who choose STEM will help with science, technology, engineering and math.

The mentoring program is for every student in all grades.

David Ennis, chairman of the Greater Salisbury Committee’s educational task force, said members the GSC, like those in the chamber of commerce, are eager to help with the mentoring program.

He said the GSC learned from Dr. John Fredericksen, superintendent of Wicomico County schools, that 750 students have mentors. That’s the good news. But another 750 need someone to converse with them and set an example.

“Of the kids who get that, the grades are much higher. It seemed like an area where our organization could get involved by volunteering and the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce is also involved,” Ennis said.

“Our role is to help Mark Thompson by providing volunteers,” he said, referring to the director of the mentoring program.

Training for volunteers includes handling blood-borne pathogens and recognizing child abuse. It’s planned for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 26 at the United Way Office. To get involved, e-mail Nona Carroll at nona@mbrt.org

“We want our mentors to come in and understand the schools. We can show them how they can make a difference with our students, which is a challenging group. We’re dealing with families who don’t have a lot of modeling of proper behavior and this is a way to help,” Thompson said, referring to an informational flyer.

“You don’t need to be a professional speaker,” it states.

“You just need to be yourself. We will provide you with training and will support you on every school visit. And we promise it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.”

The program is being embraced by the community.

Kathleen McLain, general manager of Channel 47 in Salisbury, said the station has produced a mentoring commercial that will air soon.

This week, Thompson attended a Wicomico County Council meeting and finalized plans to allow county employees to take time off work, with pay, to mentor at schools.

“We’re excited about it,” County Executive Bob Culver told the Independent.

“We want Wicomico County employees to volunteer for an hour a week. We would like to see a lot of our employees get involved,” he said.

Thompson would, too.

“With the advent of youth violence in all communities, mentoring has  become critical,” said Thompson, who also works with students.

“You provide opportunities for young people to express themselves to someone they can trust, an adult figure. We also started peer mentoring in the schools. From elementary up to high school, the upper grades will mentor the lower grades. It’s good for the behavior of the older children because now they have somebody they are responsible for,” Thompson said.

“Over the years, over 49 percent of kids who are mentored improved their grades and 49 percent improved their attendance in school. Another 22 percent improved behavior,” Thompson said.

“Really, all students need a mentor,” he said, explaining participants can spend as few as 45 minutes each week with a student, or more if they are able.

Once training is complete, the program  will begin.

The board of education allocated $19,000 which, Thompson explained, covers the cost of background checks for every mentor, pay for interns, office supplies and items students need.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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