Middle school can be a difficult time for many kids, says Damon Bethea, mentoring projects director for United Way of Allegheny County. There are "a number of challenges: Getting used to the different environment. Juggling a schedule with different teachers. Wanting to be accepted, and dealing with bullying. Not to mention that physically, emotionally and mentally you're changing and questioning who you are in the world.
"It helps kids to feel supported by somebody who is outside a mom, dad, uncle or grandmother," he adds.
That's why United Way's Be a Sixth Grade Mentor program is expanding to include seventh and eighth grades and is now called Be a Middle School Mentor
The program also now includes 12 Pittsburgh Public Schools, adding Pittsburgh Manchester, Pittsburgh Milliones/University Prep, Pittsburgh Obama and Pittsburgh Westinghouse this year, and plans to serve 460 students. Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, Communities in Schools, Mt. Ararat Community Activity Center and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh match mentors and mentees.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, in evaluating the program's first two years (2009-2011), found that participating students nearly doubled their chances of qualifying for the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship offered in the district.
The program will be recruiting new mentors through the end of November for the 2013-14 school year. The main focus of mentoring is helping kids with their careers and other aspirations. But the mentoring program also helps them do well academically, including encouraging regular attendance. Meeting with their students at lunchtime or after school, mentors aid kids in talking to teachers and creating study plans. They also advise students on what type of college or training program they might need to meet their goals.
"Anybody can do this," Bethea says, "but you have to have the commitment and the understanding that you may not see results from your mentoring for years to come – but know that you are planting seeds in the life of this young person."
Mentors, he adds, are "someone who feels that they have a lot to give to a student … or people who just have a passion about their community and want to help."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Damon Bethea, United Way of Allegheny County