Bartow High School is taking the lead in launching a new mentoring program it hopes will become a model for other secondary schools in Polk County and across the state.
Called the Mentor Alignment Project, the new program is an outreach program Principal Emilean Clemons said she hopes will help foster more community involvement in the school.
“This is a way for us to foster, encourage, engage and align our community with our school,” Clemons said. “We want to help develop a relationship between our student population and our local business community.”
The program, said School Board Member Hazel Sellers, is a way to “bring more community involvement with our students.”
Bartow City Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer, who has worked with Clemons in drafting the program, said the program is a way to target a wide variety of students and pair them with mentors and advisers from the community who can help them be successful, both in school and when they leave school for college or work.
Pfeiffer said she wanted to become more involved in the schools after attending an Alignment Nashville meeting last year, where Tennessee representatives explained how community involvement had helped turn around at-risk students, as well as those who had a need for additional support outside the classroom.
“The bullying incident that resulted in a student’s suicide really struck me,” Pfeiffer said. “If that child had had a mentor or someone that she could talk to and lean on, that whole situation may have ended differently. That was really the catalyst for me getting involved.”
The mentoring program will initially target ‘at-risk’ students, Clemons says. Those are students with attendance issues, discipline problems, low test scores, pregnancies, students with disabilities or those who speak English as a second language.
“We’re going to start with those kids,” Clemons said. “They may have the most need for someone to help them out.”
Mentors can help students brainstorm positive behavior choices; take responsibility for homework, attendance and class participation; speak confidently about home or school issues and engage in activities that build character, job or college preparation skills, a service ethic and citizenship roles. The mentor can also offer academic support, the program guidelines say.
Mentors will receive training from the school district on how to interact with their students on all those levels, Clemons explains. However, she cautioned that anyone interested must comply with the school board’s policy requiring background checks, fill out a volunteer application and submit $25 to pay for the FDLE background investigation.
Other targeted student populations include the teenage parent program and the specialized skills that would benefit the school’s focused academies. The teen parent program mentors would coordinate through the school district program that provides support to young parents to keep them in school until graduation.
The academy mentors would offer advice and support in medical, firefighting, legal studies, criminal justice, culinary arts, engineering, construction, agriculture, the performing arts, visual arts, marketing and digital design, education, sports education, ROTC and the International Baccalaureate programs.
Pfeiffer said she hoped to entice the Bartow Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Academy to become involved and “share their expertise to enhance the civic participation of emerging student leaders.”
Mentors typically commit to one hour per week for the school year.
“We want to improve our student achievement through a relationship with a positive role model, whatever their profession or ability,” Clemons said. “Many of these children don’t have role models in the home and are in need of someone that can help guide them into the future.”
Clemons estimates the number of ‘at-risk’ students at BHS at “about 300” out of a total student population of 2,000. “We would be thrilled to have that many mentors, and are reaching out to civic clubs, businesses and churches to find those who want to improve these students lives and enrich their own,” she said.
Anyone interested in the mentoring program is asked to contact program coordinator Ola Harb at firstname.lastname@example.org.