McKinney ISD holds mentor training seminar
Chris Beattie/Staff Photo - Caldwell Elementary counselor Sarahbeth Holman, right, discusses the trends and severity of bullying in today's schools on Tuesday at a REACH mentor training seminar. More than 80 current and potential mentors attended the McKinney ISD-hosted session.
McKinney ISD's mentor program recently nudged the community to national acclaim for its youth-friendly slant. The program's name - REACH - says it all: adults are reaching students.
And the allure of campus-based mentoring seems to reach adults a little more each year. More than 80 adults - retirees, businessmen and women, soccer moms - showed up Tuesday afternoon for a mentor training session.
About a fourth of them were first-timers, interested in joining REACH, while program veterans came to enhance their impact on students. They're all part of a growing McKinney phenomenon.
"I don't think it's changed much from a year ago, we just keep getting more and more volunteers," said McKinney ISD Superintendent J.D. Kennedy. "We had more than 400 last year...and to have a large crowd here indicates we still have a strong interest in our community, in working with our kids."
America's Promise Alliance, aimed at increasing high school graduation rates nationwide, last week recognized that interest when it named McKinney one of 100 Best Communities for Young People. The REACH program was the reason APA first mentioned in its selection.
More than 700 mentors have connected with more than 800 students since REACH began in 2006, according to McKinney ISD Partners in Education, but more are needed at several of the district's 19 elementary schools and at all five middle schools.
Schools grow as their city grows, and McKinney's decade-long population boom is expected to continue. The district's response: "Just keep on keeping on," Kennedy said.
That's what it did this week at its first training workshops of the new school year. Attendees, many of whom were on their lunch breaks or taking time off from regular jobs, shuffled between seminars, including one on working with children in poverty and another on bullying - issues equally as prevalent in McKinney schools.
"The purpose of these sessions is to give our volunteers ongoing training so they can be successful," said Nancy Cowlishaw, director of Partners in Education. "We want them to know what our students are like, what they deal with in the classroom. It's an opportunity for them to hear from our experts."
One such authority, certified trainer Kim Simpson, taught the poverty session. She highlighted how students' behavior is often rooted in their home life, how shame can accompany them as soon as they step on the school bus.
Simpson referenced Ruby Payne's "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" to outline tips and suggestions necessary for mentoring an impoverished student.
"There are two things that help a person move out of poverty: education and relationships," Simpson told attendees.
Payne's study illustrated how one school had its at-risk students spend just five to 10 minutes a day with a faculty member - a makeshift mentor - and their scores went up 30 percent that year.
REACH mentors are only required to spend an hour a week, far less than Payne's case study, but every little bit helps, Kennedy said.
"For a child who is struggling with school to have an adult willing to spend an hour a week with them can make a huge difference because an adult is interested in their lives," he said. "That's what the REACH program does, it reinforces what you're getting at home, and if you're not, it fills that void."
Like Kennedy, first-time mentor Phillip Watkins had parents who guided and encouraged him through school. Watkins, a 2005 McKinney High School graduate, recently returned to his hometown, and now works as a financial advisor. He joined 20 others at the day's first REACH orientation seminar, when they learned the steps to soon becoming a student's mentor.
"I saw people who were smarter or who had more ability than me not really amount to too much just because they didn't have that mentor figure in their lives," Watkins said of his time growing up in the city. "They didn't have anyone telling them what they should be doing, so I saw a lot of students my age just fall off the tracks. They didn't know the right path."
Watkins helps teachers manage their savings and retirement plans and is often in schools, so he hopes to mentor more than one hour a week. He said an hour is the least someone can do for a kid who often desperately needs just that.
"Some kids have the ability, just not anyone who's helping them and encouraging them," he said, crediting his parents as those people. "Without education, you can't do much. And especially today, a bachelor's degree is almost the bare minimum."
Another evolved standard is bullying, as Caldwell Elementary counselor Sarahbeth Holman explained to mentors in a separate session. Getting good grades and edging into class before the bell each morning are sometimes the least of students' pressures.
"Now there is cyber-bullying, and I think that's one of the main reasons why it's so much worse today," Holman told REACH mentors. "They cannot escape it...It really does take a community to stand up and say, 'We don't do this here.'"
Holman's advice focused on a mentor's role in understanding the phenomenon, and in either guiding a bully from it or supporting a bullied student through it.
Equipped with mentoring basics and progressive updates, particularly the new mentors seemed eager to begin their on-campus relationships. They're ready to be the latest evidence of McKinney's affinity for young people.
And for mentors in their sixth year with a student, their youth reach again lengthened.
"What we have found is until you are in a relationship starting from the second year on, you don't begin to see significant changes with a student," Cowlishaw said. "It's those ongoing relationships where the change happens."