North Texas Daily

Mentor Denton exceeds first semester expectations

Mentor Denton exceeds first semester expectations

Mentor Denton exceeds first semester expectations
January 16
10:21 2014

John Lugo // Sports Editor

As Mentor Denton came to a close in its inaugural semester last fall, the program gained momentum at a faster pace than those involved imagined.

Mentor Denton is a program that seeks volunteers to serve as mentors and meet with at-risk students in the Denton Independent School District, helping students who need guidance. The program is partnered with other programs and establishments, including Communities in Schools North Texas, United Way of Denton, UNT, Denton-ISD, the City of Denton, and We Denton Do It.

The mentor-mentee relationship is not only restricted to helping in school subjects, meaning   whichever way the mentee wants guidance, as long as it’s appropriate, the mentor is encouraged to help. Some may assist with homework, while others simply talk to the student about his or her day or how to look for a job and other things of that nature.

The program began taking form in May when UNT’s University Committee for Student Engagement met with the community-wide committee in Denton to find projects the university and city could work on together. As part of the UNT Strategic Plan for 2012-17, that includes the Four Bold Goals Plan, Mentor Denton contributes to the fourth bold goal, which is “Establish UNT as a nationally recognized, engaged university and regional leader by building and expanding mutually beneficial partnerships and resources.”

After initially setting the goal to reach 1,000 recruited mentors to help, guide and tutor students of Denton ISD, the program has already reached approximately 1,200 sign-ups and approximately 700 mentors who are already seeing students or are waiting to. The ultimate goal is to have 10,000 mentors by the Fall 2015 semester.

Kevin Roden, chair of the University Committee for Student Engagement and assistant director of student life in the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS) department, focused on recruiting volunteers from UNT for the projects discussed, including Mentor Denton, with the committees.

“We have such an incredible untapped volunteer base that there really shouldn’t be any need in our community that’s just in need of man power that isn’t being solved,” Roden said. “So in talking about that, we came up with this idea of specifically looking at the schools and what they need.”

The Mentor Denton website claims there are 10,000 at-risk students in Denton ISD, based on a report done by the United Way of Denton that analyzed a community needs assessment in the education system. The assessment defines “at-risk” as being at risk of dropping out of school based on state-defined criteria in the report.  The study shows an increase in students who are economically disadvantaged, at-risk students, students who are limited in English proficiency and an increase in the number of students overall in the district.

The program works with the program managers of Communities in Schools North Texas help find at-risk students. Program managers at each school are notified of students who may benefit from having a mentor through referrals from teachers, counselors or the principal of the student’s school.

The current status of the program

Currently, only schools with top percentages of at-risk students have a program manager.. Roden said a step for the future would be to expand to all of Denton ISD because some schools without program managers have already asked for mentors.

Concentrating on the schools with the most at-risk students greatly helps teachers, as Roden said one teacher may have as many as 20 at-risk students who need one-on-one attention that a teacher simply doesn’t have the time to give.

“A lot of times, the type of tutoring they may need is something that your average college student can handle without any problem,” Roden said. “Often times, it’s just having that emotional connection with that adult who’s saying ‘I’m for you. I’m your fan. We can do this.’”

Graphic by Nicole Arnold / Visuals Editor

Graphic by Nicole Arnold / Visuals Editor

Hope Galloway, the program manager at Borman Elementary, said there has been 100 percent approval by the parents of students to allow their children to see a mentor. Teachers have also been very receptive, as some have developed it into an incentive for their students in the classroom.

“They love seeing the volunteers come in. One teacher told me that it means so much to these kids that these mentors are coming in when they don’t have to be there,” Galloway said. “They’re not paid. They’re there because they want to be there.”

Galloway also said there are mentors who have already committed for next semester and wish to continue seeing the same student. The focus with keeping the same mentor and mentee together is to further develop the bond between the two,, hoping the stronger the bond, the more the student will want to succeed in the classroom.

“There’s a lot of different ways [students] can benefit,” Galloway said. “Some of the kids just need a one-on-one relationship with an adult. Some of those students need that in-school tutoring. Some kids are just really shy and they can benefit from starting to build a relationship with that person.”

The Mentor-Mentee Relationship

For volunteers already seeing students, the process included registering, attending a training orientation, being assigned to a school and later to a student that they see on a weekly basis for approximately one hour per week.

English senior Schyler Butler, who became a volunteer after her Willis Library co-workers told her about the program, now sees a third-grade student at Frank Borman Elementary School. Whether it’s going over math homework or talking about her day while playing computer games, Butler said over time her mentee has opened up much more to her. In fact, she feels as though there isn’t enough time in each session because of how quickly they expire.

“You can’t really change the outcome of everyone’s life but maybe if everyone has a little positivity in their life, whether it be a person or a thing or a place, or what have you, it’s gotta count for something,” Butler said. “If anyone can put in 30 to 40 minutes one day a week, I think it would be very beneficial for the kids and the school. I think more college students would benefit from working with these kids. It’s definitely a stress reliever.”

Roden mentioned there are some kinks in the program that will be addressed next semester, specifically the sign-up process. He hopes  to make it smoother and easier to complete than this semester.

Some mentors have been stuck without a student to meet because of issues arising with the schools due to the inefficient manner of connecting mentors and mentees.

In addition to that, the program will also look into which ways to expand and further help the community with funding. So far, the program hasn’t needed any funding and has been run purely by volunteers, hoping that its success will inspire future monetary sources to help.

“The beauty of that is now there’s going to be a point where we need funding, but now I can go to folks who are potential funders and say ‘I know this works because we just proved it for free. So think about what we can do with $50,000,’” Roden said. “To me I’d rather be in that position going out to the community seeking resources versus ‘Oh trust me, I think I can do something if you gave me money.’ It’s ‘I did it for nothing, now give us money and think about where we can go from here.’

While the program has exceeded expectations for on-campus volunteers, the next issue is getting the Denton community more involved. Of the 1,200 volunteers signed up in the program, only about 200 of those are city residents who aren’t UNT students. The aim in the future is to look further into other community programs such as churches, scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters and businesses for more involvement.

The future of the program

In the future, the committees intend to expand volunteerism throughout the university and the community by going beyond Mentor Denton. They also plan to find a way to create jobs to convince graduates to stay in Denton after school. Possible ideas include a website where programs can list the volunteer needs and requirements which students and others in the community can view. Others include focusing on the economic development of the city, including what industries need help and where jobs can be created.

Once the first year of Mentor Denton is completed, the committees will look at the possibility of a summer program. Roden believes other ideas will eventually come to light because many public figures in Denton have already worked together and strived to get the programs currently up and running.

“A lot of cities, I think, are like when they hear about some of the things we’re doing they say ‘how did Denton get those people to play?’ because a lot of times people are territorial, their own interests get in the way of the betterment of community interests,” Roden said. “I think we’re just really blessed as a community to have people who want to work together to tackle these things.”

Graphic by Nicole Arnold / Visuals Editor

Graphic by Nicole Arnold / Visuals Editor

Disclosure: Since the writing of this story, Schyler Butler joined the NT Daily staff as an intern writer. 

Feature photo:  A UNT mentor helps a student with her homework. Photo courtesy of Communities In Schools of North Texas

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