Spring 99' Grading Contract, Mentoring Project (Confidential)

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Karen Sue Rigdon

Spring 1999 Contract for Grade

International Falls Masters of Education

Project Strive Mentoring Program  Reflections and Rewards

I rushed into the high school cafeteria at 3 AM to find Jeremiah sitting at one of the long tables eating hot pepperoni pizza and drinking a coke with a male friend. I proudly handed him the prize he had won in one of the drawings at that evenings Rotary-hosted, post-prom party. He reached out, with a big smile on his face, to accept the black sweatshirt embroidered in red floss with the name of our local community college, Rainy River. This is an extra large so it should fit perfectly, I said, and I know that youll be going there.

Jeremiah is a participant in the first year of a mentoring program spearheaded by the International Falls Rotary Club. His bottom-third ranking within the junior class last year qualified him for our program, which aims to empower young adults of promise during their senior year. I was pleased to be assigned as Jeremiahs mentor for the year and he said he was pleased with the match as well. The year has been a wonderful and gratifying experience for all involved. Jeremiah and the other Strive students have all decided to continue their schooling next fall in colleges around the state.

Looking back, the first time Jeremiah and I went out to lunch I believe that we were both a touch uneasy. I tried to ask him open-ended questions to find out more about him. When he sensed that I was truly interested in him he opened up and spoke with ease in surprising detail. My heart ached for him when I found out that his biological father had been in jail for many years and that his mother had left another abusive relationship when he was very young. There was no father figure in Jeremiahs life. I secretly wished that I could fill that void, but I knew instinctively that things would work out in spite of my being a female.

None of the three monetary educational awards to be given by Project Strive to the students that improved the most in the targeted areas will go to Jeremiah. Jeremiah has some learning challenges and is enrolled in several special education classes. (There has been some concern over mixing special education students with non-special education students, because of the necessary evaluation comparisons for the award money.) I offered many times to have him over to my house to get help from my husband with his nemesis subject, algebra. He would tell me that his older sister could help him because she was pretty good at math. I can only hope that my offers to help showed him that I cared and was there for him if he needed me.

Money is an issue in Jeremiahs household. His mother, a single parent to three children, works at a low-paying secretarial job. When I telephone to speak with Jeremiah her usual answer is, Hes at work. She often expresses her gratitude to me for helping her son. I understood after dozens of phone calls that my mentee probably spends nearly as many hours at work in the kitchen of Thunderbird Lodge as he does in school. Jeremiah is a hard worker and being independent is very important to him. His grades at school probably suffer because of all the hours on the job but his pride does not: I am sure that he never asks his mother for any money except as a loan. As a mentor I chose not nag Jeremiah about working too much. When he told me he had problems with algebra the third quarter, I offered help once again and suggested that he stay after school for the extra credit sessions.

A strong and fruitful mentoring relationship is not built quickly. It hinges on the slow and gradual building of trust between the two involved. I found myself being very cautious not to push too hard or force my expectations on my mentee, as I knew that it would be so easy for him to drop out of the program. Jeremiah had perfect attendance at our monthly Strive breakfast meetings and always presented a positive, happy attitude. He has decided to work two jobs this summer and go to Rainy River Community College for two years before going to Duluth to attend a technical college there. I would be thrilled to maintain contact with Jeremiah if he is not adverse to the idea: he is one terrific young man.

Besides nurturing the relationship with my assigned student through phone conversations, sending cards, giving small gifts, and chats during breakfasts and lunches, the following are some examples of my participation in Project Strive:

 Wrote a curriculum proposal to UMD University College to seek acceptance for the involvement of the International Falls Masters of Education candidates in the Strive mentoring program

 Attended six hours of mentor training sessions

 Attended monthly adult planning meetings

 Attended monthly breakfast meetings with students

 Made a suggestion to the chairman that we have gift drawings for the students at the breakfast meetings to serve as an added incentive

 Purchased gifts every month for the gift drawings

 Prepared interactive jokes for the icebreaker breakfast

 Prepared handouts for the mentors entitled Twenty Ideas for Building Your Mentoring Relationship

 Made reminder phone calls to students about meetings

 Contacted the head of the Chamber of Commerce to help arrange for our co-chairs to present Strive to the chamber businesses

 Spoke to several local businesses concerning summer employment of Strive students

 Arranged for our breakfast meetings to be moved to a more economical location

 Contacted an employee from the employment agency to present to our group

 Wrote thank you notes to several guest speakers (speakers presented on various topics such as attitude in the work place, putting your best foot forward in an interview, one mans rags to riches story, the meaning of success etc.)

 Prepared a file folder for each student with a six page handout on job interviewing tips and a comical writing concerning what not to say in an interview

 Made a form for students to provide input and vote on award issues

 Volunteered to speak to eligible members of the junior class to recruit students for the 1999  2000 school year Strive program

 Will help with the planning of the year-end banquet for mentors, students and parents.

It has been a rewarding opportunity to serve as a mentor and, perhaps in some small way, to have made a positive impact on young adults of promise. I hope that Jeremiah and the seven other students in our program have been empowered by the information we have provided in the areas of social and job skills. I hope they find satisfaction in the choices they make after they graduate from high school. And, most of all, I hope they all know how deeply the adults in their community care about them and believe in them.

-- Anonymous, May 06, 1999

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