Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Capital Region has for many years attempted to place children in Perry County with much needed mentors to provide additional support and guidance. The agency and Susquenita School District, collaborated to create the High School Mentoring Program. Since August 1997, 52 children in third and fourth grade look up to a high school Big Brother or Big Sister volunteer.
The elementary students selected for the program may exhibit poor adult and peer relationships, lack of confidence, academic underachievement, and inadequate social skills. Many of them are lonely and in need of positive attention. Conversely, the high school mentors are above average academically and have exemplary conduct. Most high school volunteers are employed outside of school, active in sports and extra-curricular activities, and volunteer in their churches or communities. High school volunteers are professionally screened and trained with high school and agency staff monitoring the relationships to deal with more severe issues that may arise.
The high school students meet with the elementary children once per week during school hours. Since activities are part of the school day and always on campus, the elementary students require only parental permission for participation. The parents do not view this service as intrusive. While their activities vary, schoolwork, reading, sports and projects are among their favorites. Also, in order to instill a sense of community responsibility, each pair must do a community service project. The “community” is defined as their campus.
Since the inception of the program, the elementary children have consistently shown an increase in academic performance as well as, better relationships with teachers and classmates, improved social skills and more confidence. However, the high school volunteers have also identified benefits from their involvement including improved communication skills, problem solving abilities, and willingness to try new experiences. Volunteers further indicate their desire to continue volunteer work after graduation. It is through these high school volunteers that 52 children from the community have a better chance of reaching adulthood successfully and become productive citizens.