February 18, 2013

North Myrtle Beach schools pair up for mentoring program

Some North Myrtle Beach Elementary School students are getting the extra encouragement they need through a new mentoring program that brings them together with some of their heroes.

Some North Myrtle Beach Elementary School students are getting the extra encouragement they need through a new mentoring program that brings them together with some of their heroes.

Selected athletes and cheerleaders from North Myrtle Beach High School are volunteering as mentors each week, meeting their kids for breakfast at 7 a.m. and 45 minutes of whatever coaching and encouragement each child needs. The high schoolers are earning credit for required community hours while helping the children, who need a little extra support in some areas to succeed.

“It’s been awesome,” said Principal Vicki Underwood, who selects the children for mentorship along with Assistant Principal Amy Edwards. “The mentors meet whatever the need is. There may be some that have a behavior issue, there are a few who need homework help, and some just need a role model. They are not always chosen because there’s a real difficulty.”

The seeds for the program were planted last spring when Joe Quigley, the high school’s athletic director, brought the football team to the elementary school. He and Underwood saw how the little ones looked up to the players and they put that admiration to use in the mentorship program, which they started last fall. Edwards said they already are seeing positive results with the children – who form strong bonds with their mentors – and the older students are being mentored in return.

“These are some of our best kids in academics, they’re involved in other activities, and they all want to be here, despite their full schedules,” Quigley said. “They can tell the children the discipline it takes [to succeed], but they’re also learning there are other people in this world beyond themselves and how their actions affect others.”

Edwards said 32 children are paired with a mentor each semester, with 16 pair meeting twice a week on alternating days. After breakfast in the cafeteria, they move to a science lab to work on whatever is needed that day. Every child has a different objective, said Edwards, who always tells them to be respectful, responsible and ready, and to share with their mentor what they are going to do to make a positive difference for themselves, their friends and their school.

Earlier this month, Marci Chestnut, 17, and TreQuone Boyd, 8, were playing Scrabble, and TreQuone said it was helping him to learn to spell words. Chestnut plays both volleyball and basketball, but said she finds time to mentor because she believes it’s a good program.

“I get helped, too – he brings a smile to my face, and I’m happy when I leave him,” Chestnut said. “I’m helping mold a better person for a better future.”

There are a number of similar mentoring programs across the country, said Margene Willis, public engagement/K-12 mentoring specialist for Coastal Carolina University and Horry County Schools. She said research on these programs has by and large been very positive. Information from the National Mentoring Partnership said studies indicate that one-to-one mentoring relationships can promote positive outcomes, such as improved self-esteem and social skills.

Willis is in charge of a volunteer program in which CCU students mentor at schools across the district. She said the program is in its ninth year and has about 100 volunteers – about 60 percent of them education majors – mentoring this semester in 22 elementary schools and seven middle schools, as well as three in different high schools who have continued to work with the same student. She said the CCU program currently has three mentors at North Myrtle Beach Elementary and one at each of the other schools in that school cluster.

Willis said a lot of schools can’t team up the way North Myrtle Beach has because the schools in their attendance areas are too far apart. Quigley said the North Myrtle Beach cluster has a sense of community, and they all were eager to help each other.

Elijah Whitehead, 9, is benefiting from that sense of community and is considered one of the success stories of the program’s first semester. He was new to the area, living with his grandmother and nervous about being in a new school, Edwards said. The third-grader found a role model outside school in his bus driver, Robert Ross, who befriended Elijah and began taking him to school sporting events at his own expense. Ross said he lost his mother when he was young and wanted to pass on the kindness someone had showed him, and Quigley has provided game passes to ensure their sports attendance continues.

For added support in school, Edwards said she paired Elijah with a mentor to let him know they were there to help him and that he was in a safe place. Elijah said he liked having a mentor to talk to, and that he “tried harder” because of that relationship. His work paid off, resulting in a place on the honor roll, and Edwards said those relationships made the difference.

“You can tell now he loves school,” she said. “He is a turned-around kid.”

Edwards said she’s seen dramatic behavioral changes in some children, such as one who had experienced a traumatic event, and now she has children approaching her, wanting to have a mentor of their own.

“Some children need that role model and want to know somebody is there,” Edwards said. “[Quigley’s] children have made such an impact in my children’s lives - it’s just a beautiful thing.”

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