Beyond Being a Student

Success Mentors Back for Second Year in Lawrence Schools

Last autumn at the high energy kickoff of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Success Mentors program at Lawrence High School, both mentors and mentees were asked to share their goals for the coming school year.  “I hope to make my mentee feel like he is cared for as an individual, beyond being a student,” offered one participant.  “I hope to help my mentee accomplish his goals,” the new mentor went on to add.  Intentions such as this, which reflect the whole of a kid’s well being, fuels the program’s success with achievement benchmarks that go well beyond the mentees’ grades.  Angela Keizl, a volunteer mentor in the program, is one shining illustration of the program’s scope.  Throughout the school year Ms. Keizl supports her mentee on the academic front, but alongside that effort she is there to cheer her mentee Marie Carmen on in her personal passion for dance – even accompanying her to her dance classes.  “Through her dance studies, Marie Carmen has gained some much needed self-confidence.  Watching her confidence soar as she throws herself into productions, takes on new creative responsibilities and develops friendships has been for me a profound pleasure.”  On Tuesday afternoon, November 13, the Success Mentors partnership between Lawrence High School and Family Services of the Merrimack Valley will kick-off year two of the program with high hopes for building on the accomplishments of last year.

The Success Mentors partnership between Lawrence High School and Family Services of the Merrimack Valley specifically targets young people identified as being at risk for dropping out of school.  The program matches students with teachers, administrators, and other individuals within the high school who advise the students, providing guidance, motivation and accountability for attending school and staying on track with academic demands.  The mentors also serve as “connectors,” helping to flag challenges causing absenteeism and connecting mentees to appropriate school personnel that would otherwise remain untapped.  “Our goal is to inspire students to attend school every day,” said the school’s Dean of Family & Community Jasmitila Duran, a 2008 graduate of Lawrence High School herself.  Supporting the mentees in other areas of their lives often has proven to be integral in driving that good attendance.

Next week’s year two launch event taking place at Lawrence High School will offer mentors, mentees (and their families) an opportunity to acquaint themselves, establish some match goals, and enjoy dinner together in a supportive setting.  “It was a monumental task to get this Success Mentors program off of the ground last year, and much credit goes out to our Family Services mentoring staff members Leah Feroce and Michelle Martinez for doing so,” commented Family Services’ Chief Executive Officer Liz Sweeney.  “This is a life-changing program, and Family Services is thrilled to continue to lead this effort.”  By pairing students with internal mentors at Lawrence High School, and new this year also at the Arlington Middle School, the Success Mentors program is built to serve as a framework in which these volunteers can have an ongoing presence in the life of their mentee and make a significant impact in their life.  The reciprocal effect of that framework was well put by one Mentor Maria Jarostchuk… “I thought that as a mentor I would spend my time teaching my mentee, and I was so wrong.  I have spent more time learning, as my mentee Surenisha has taught ME so much.”

The Massachusetts (MA) Success Mentors Collaborative is a partnership among three youth mentoring programs in Massachusetts that each serve the three poorest cities in Massachusetts. Led by Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, with the Holyoke Boys & Girls Clubs and Springfield School Volunteers, the MA Success Mentors Collaborative will adopt the practices of the evidence-based “Success Mentors” model, launched by the Obama Administration in 2010, to enhance recruitment, training, and monitoring and support activities to better serve the target population of youth who are currently, or at risk of becoming, chronically absent.  That program quickly became the largest, most comprehensive in-school mentoring effort in the nation within a single city (New York) reaching nearly 10,000 students who were chronically absent or at risk of becoming chronically absent.  Under the “Success Mentors” model students are connected with caring adults who serve as trained and supported motivators, problem solvers, and advocates to form supportive relationships, identify and celebrate student’s strengths, promote their attendance every day, and connect them with the necessary supports to keep them on track and thriving.  Through this system mentors are also “connectors,” helping to flag challenges causing absenteeism and connecting mentees to appropriate school personnel that would otherwise remain untapped. In replicating the “Success Mentors” model, the Collaborative will sub-contract with Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) to provide training and technical support.


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