Internet lets mentors keep contact after moving

Internet lets mentors keep contact after moving

CHAMPAIGN — In a town known for people moving in and out, it's often hard for a mentor moving away to part with a student.

Now, at Champaign's two high schools, Central and Centennial, mentors who move can still talk face-to-face to the students they mentor with a little help from modern technology.

This fall, mentors and mentees are able to use Skype, an online service that uses webcams, speakers and microphones to connect people.

For example, Amy Pieczko and Central junior Sophie Ilunga have been matched in the CU One-to-One Mentoring program since Ilunga was in seventh grade.

Pieczko moved to South Dakota in September but is still in touch.

"I was worried that when I had to move, she and I would not be able to continue to meet," Pieczko said. "She means a lot to me, and now that we can Skype, I still feel like I'm a part of her life."

Pieczko said she likes Skyping better than talking on the phone.

"It's like we are in the same room," she said. "I'm able to see her expression and that helps with our communication."

Ilunga said she likes Skyping with Pieczko, too.

"I like it. It's convenient," she said. "It's great to stay in touch with her."

During one session, Ilunga Skyped while simultaneously checking her phone and working on homework.

Face-to-face communication is important for mentors and mentees, said Sara Easter, the mentor and volunteer coordinator at Centennial High School. She used the technology last year at Champaign's Westview Elementary, when a student was able to Skype with her mentor who was out of the country for about six weeks.

Although that was a temporary solution for that pair, Easter said, she thinks high schoolers Skyping with their long-time mentors is a smart solution.

"Most of them have had mentors already for two to six years," Easter said. "They have an established relationship with this adult in their life," and oftentimes don't want to be matched with a new mentor if their current one moves away. Many times, high schoolers are already emailing, texting or communicating via Facebook with their mentors.

"They have more adult conversations and more adult communications and the kids miss them when they're gone," Easter said. Now, Skype connects them better than just an occasional email or phone call.

"In today's society, we tend to underestimate the value of face-to-face contact," Easter said. "When you're building a mentoring relationship between an adult and a student, ... if you can't meet to face to face, you lose a lot."

One benefit is seeing the other person's expression, and "see how much they care," Easter said.

"It's a great use of technology to really help maintain these relationships," she said. "They would not stay as strong without that face-to-face time."

Marilyn Mastny, the mentor and volunteer site coordinator at Central High School, said the school district had enough money to buy one webcam for Central.

But she was able to get a large enough discount from the local Best Buy store that she was able to buy webcams and related equipment for both high schools. That worked out well, because students and mentors at both schools are able to use them.

"It's just such a nice opportunity," Mastny said.