Agency to launch mentoring effort to ease move to high school

DANVILLE — A local youth organization is partnering with Danville High School to help ease the transition from middle school to high school and ensure academic success.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vermilion County will launch the "Making the Grade" one-to-one mentoring program on Oct. 8 at the school. It will run from 3:20 to 4:20 p.m. on Tuesdays throughout the school year.

A component of the Danville High's School Improvement Grant, the program pairs adult mentors with an incoming freshman. Mentors will spend the first half hour helping their student with academics.

"We want to work on ACT preparation. We'll work on their reading. And we'll help them with any kind of challenges they may have," said Rose Henton, the organization's executive director.

Mentors will spend the second half hour getting to know the student through interactive activities supervised by a case manager and assisted by a teacher when necessary.

"It's really about building a friendship with the student by sharing their backgrounds, their experiences, their interests and their aspirations," explained Henton, who is looking for volunteer mentors. "We want them to explore their similarities and their differences. It's also encouraging them to stay in school, increase their attendance, if that's something they need to work on, and encouraging them to think about what they do before they actually do it."

Each letter of the word "grade" begins one of the program's goals. They are:

— Graduate in four years with their class.

— Responsibility collectively for student success.

— Accountability from students for their actions and achievements.

— Determination from all involved to achieve success.

— Excellence achieved through collaboration among students, mentors, parents, school and community.

The program dovetails with the school's first Making the Grade conference, which will be held at the high school on Tuesday.

During the conference, community members will meet individually with freshmen and juniors for about 5 to 10 minutes to review their progress in school, encourage and inspire them to do their best and help them understand the correlation between high school and their future.

When Henton heard school officials wanted to include a mentoring component as part of the School Improvement Grant — a comprehensive plan designed to significantly improve academic achievement — she immediately volunteered her organization.

"I've been asked many times, 'Why don't you do mentoring at the high school?'" said Henton, whose organization offers school-based mentoring for elementary and middle school students as well as traditional mentoring. "We thought this would be a good segue to get the people who want to mentor older kids involved."

The program will launch with 20 to 25 students. However, officials would like to see it grow to include many more, particularly freshmen. That's a pivotal time in a student's life, officials said. They added mentors can provide extra academic, and more importantly, emotional support to help with the challenges they may face and encourage them to stay in school.

"That personal touch is absolutely vital for a lot of students to succeed," Principal Phil Cox said. "If we get them connected with someone who takes an active interest in them, it can really make a difference in the life of that student."

Mentors must be at least 21 years old, complete an application and pass a background and reference checks. They will receive training and follow-up from case-managers.

They do not have to be whizzes in calculus or world history or "the science guy," Henton said.

"They just need to be there and talk them through it and make sure the work gets done," she assured.

Henton has been recruiting at churches and community organizations. She also would like local businesses get involved.

"I really encourage the community to get behind the improvements we're trying to make for education," Henton said, adding that benefits everyone.

For more information or to volunteer, contact Henton at 446-6601 or rose.henton@bbbsvcc.org.

Volunteers needed

DANVILLE — Community volunteers are still needed for Danville High School's first Making the Grade conference, which will be held at the high school on Tuesday, said Associate Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat.

Volunteers will meet individually with freshmen and juniors for about 5 to 10 minutes to review their progress at school and encourage them in their academic endeavors.

Training sessions for volunteers will be held from 8 to 8:25 a.m. and 10:10 to 10:40 a.m. They are recommended but not required, and those who are unable to attend will receive instructions upon their arrival.

Following the training, volunteers will meet with students during two sessions. The first is from 8:30 to 10:05 a.m., and the second is from 10:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. People can volunteer for one or both sessions.

For more information or to volunteer, contact Melinda Bailey, the associate superintendent's secretary, at baileym@danville.k12.il.us or 444-1012.

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