In 1996, Pio Pico Elementary received a grant from the Governor’s Office of Child Development and Education to establish a mentoring program to improve students’ academic achievement by providing children in need with a caring adult. Pio Pico was the only elementary school in Orange County awarded a grant because a) The school is located in a one square mile area that has 26,000 young people 21 years of age and under; b) Ninety-eight percent of the student who attend Pio Pico have limited English proficiency; and c) Ninety-three percent of the students receive free or reduced cost meals.
The neighborhood served by Pio Pico Elementary is linguistically and economically isolated. Demographically, it has a majority of families who have been in the U.S. a little more than a decade, and the average level of schooling among adults is third grade. Accordingly, the family income of the parents is substantially below the standard set by the Federal government for poverty income level.
What is exemplary about Pio Pico’s mentoring program is its 35-member Advisory Board composed of members representing five categories of membership including: elected and appointed officials, business and industry executives, college and university professors, community-based organization administrators and volunteer mentors. It is the support of this group that has made the mentoring program one of the most successful in Southern California. During the 1998-99 school year more than 250 volunteers were recruited to provide mentoring assistance to 254 students.
Using a commercially developed reading and language arts instructional component, 90% of the students who have participated in the mentoring program have increased their language proficiency by at least one reading level as measured by pre- and post-informal reading inventories. In addition, the students who have participated in the program have also shown a dramatic reduction in the number of discipline referrals made to the Principal’s office; and, there has also been an increase in their average daily attendance when these two indices are compared with a comparison group of similar third, fourth, and fifth grade students.
In 1999, the City of Santa Ana was designated as an empowerment zone by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and one of the target areas selected for redevelopment includes the neighborhood where Pio Pico Elementary is located. Accordingly, the 35-member Advisory Board voted to expand the academic mentoring program to all 13 elementary, intermediate and high schools located in empowerment zone target areas who elect to establish an academic mentoring program.
Recognition for the program has been made in the form of financial support from private industry and United Way. On August 25, 1999 the Bank of America provided the program with a $90,000 gift; and, on October 5, 1999 the United Way of Orange County awarded it a three-year, $300,000 grant to enable it to expand its mentoring service.
Both Bank of America and United Way explained that the reasons they selected Pio Pico’s mentoring program to be the recipient of their respective financial awards were: a) the broad-based community support it has developed through its 35-member Advisory Board; b) The program’s focus on student academic achievement; and c) The quantifiable student outcomes measured by pre- and post-tests for reading.
Pio Pico’s Academic Volunteer and Mentor Service Program represents a strategic initiative by an innovative urban school to rally the entire community in order to bring “ordinary people who reach beyond themselves to the lives of those in need, bringing hope and opportunity, care and friendship.”