As school starts up next week, coordinators of the 4J Middle School Mentor Program are looking for volunteers to spend 30 minutes once a week with at-risk students.
Lucy McWhorter, a mentor to middle school students in Eugene School District 4J, says she was amazed to observe that only 30 minutes a week of mentoring can lead to greater confidence in middle school students.
“It’s a very small piece of time, but it makes such a huge difference,” says McWhorter, who in addition to her mentoring is also a coach with the Washington-based Parent Coaching Institute. “I know that especially for middle school students, they’re going through all these difficult transitions.”
Anne Bridgman, the mentor program’s coordinator, says that even though 117 kids were mentored through the program last year, most middle schools in 4J had a waiting list of students that still needed mentors.
McWhorter, who volunteered at Cal Young Middle School, says that the program matches kids and mentors with similar life experiences — she and her student, for example, shared the same accent.
“She was extremely bright, funny and creative, and the mentoring allowed me to see another side of her that I think she had held back when she first started school,” McWhorter says.
She and her student initially played board games, but “we got into deeper topics later, and it was surprising to me,” she says. “I had no idea some of the things she was struggling with.”
The program functions in all eight of 4J’s middle schools, and Bridgman says kids in the program are often referred by their counselor or principal after experiencing hardships, anything from behavioral issues to having an incarcerated parent.
“It’s an opportunity for kids to get a little extra support,” she says. “In middle school, you often have multiple teachers throughout the day, so it’s a time when kids can feel isolated and lonely. It’s the age where kids decide if they’re going to be successes or failures in school.”
All mentors receive training and criminal background checks before being matched with a student, and they also fill out an evaluation form to procure the best match.
Camryn Long, a junior at the UO, mentored three students last year, and she says it was “one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever been a part of. It’s incredible the change you see in the kids over the course of the year.”
Bridgman says the volunteer-run program has led to some remarkable results — one student revealed her vision problems and her mentor helped her get glasses, while another student with ADHD said his mentor, who also has ADHD, felt like the first person in his life to understand him.
Springfield School District also has a mentorship program called Middle College, with a focus on career preparation. Mentors meet with students three times a year to discuss academic plans and give advice about future careers.
“I would assign homework, asking them to think about the careers we’d talked about and what kind of schooling is required,” says Deb Jolda, a spokesperson with the Springfield School District who also spent time as a mentor. “They’d report back to me and tell me what they’d learned — it was really rewarding.”