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A-OK Mentors/Tutors Support Students’ Success

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In his proclamation declaring January 2015 National Mentoring Month, President Barack Obama said, “In a nation of limitless possibility, every child deserves the chance to unlock his or her potential. When young Americans have the support they need to make the most of themselves, they can achieve their dreams. … Every day, mentors play a vital role in this national mission by helping to broaden the horizons for our daughters and sons.”

Obama’s words offer the core value on which A-OK Mentoring – Tutoring Inc. was founded — every child deserves support to succeed. The A-OK mission is to enhance the successful academic and social development of identified Howard County public school students through the encouraging, ongoing support of an adult mentor-tutor.

To this end, A-OK, a nonprofit organization and formal partner of the Howard County Public School System, works in collaboration with 12 elementary schools and six middle schools to offer dependable, ongoing adult encouragement and support to students who may be struggling to succeed.

One-on-One Interaction

A-OK recruits, screens, trains and tracks adult volunteer mentor-tutors who meet with students one-on-one during the school day or with small groups in after-school programs sponsored by the school system. Each school’s guidance counselor and teachers select students who can benefit from additional adult attention. Then the counselor or school liaison to A-OK matches individual students with an A-OK volunteer.

A-OK volunteers are adults who enjoy being with children and youth. They are friendly, flexible, committed, patient, encouraging and dependable community members. Many are retirees, others work flextime or part-time or are at-home parents.

The majority of A-OK volunteers function in the dual role of mentor-tutor. As such, volunteers work to build a warm, encouraging relationship with the student(s). They engage the student in reading, educational games and puzzles, school assignments, Internet research and a variety of other enrichment activities. The volunteer may listen to the student discuss events in school or other aspects of life, and may help the youngster clarify perceptions, emotions, reactions and choices.

Mentor-tutors will deliberately look for anything the student does as an opportunity to enhance learning; they persevere, focus on the student, ask good questions and then comment to the student about how helpful these behaviors are in succeeding.

Each volunteer is expected to meet with her or his student for about one hour per week, at the same day and time, for at least one school year. (Many volunteer-student pairs meet for two or more years.) Since A-OK is a “school-based” program, volunteers only meet students at school or at an after-school program site. If the volunteer has concerns or questions,

s/he is strongly encouraged to ask for advice from A-OK staff, the school counselor or the student’s teacher.

A-OK collaborates with the following elementary schools: Atholton, Bryant Woods, Cradlerock, Forest Ridge, Guilford, Jeffers Hill, Longfellow, Phelps Luck, Running Brook, Stevens Forest, Swansfield and Thunder Hill. If a student and mentor want to continue to meet in middle school, A-OK coordinates arrangements with the middle school.

A Mentoring Story

This is the story of Mrs. B and her student Jon, who first began meeting in January 2011 when Jon was in second grade. At the teacher’s request, rather than meeting in the media center where many students and their mentor-tutors meet, Mrs. B was asked to sit inside Jon’s classroom next to Jon’s desk to help him stay focused on his work.

At their first meeting, Mrs. B greeted Jon warmly with a big smile and asked what he was working on. Jon did not look at Mrs. B and did not answer her question. Even so, she sat down next to him and spent an hour being present, ready to interact.

Jon continued to ignore her the next week and the weeks after that. Because in the A-OK training that Mrs. B attended before she met Jon she had been told that the mentor is supposed to meet with the student dependably, each week, at the same day and time, for at least one school year, she continued to go to Jon’s classroom week after week in February, March and April, while he continued to ignore her.

One day during this time, when the teacher asked Mrs. B. to help another student, Jon made it clear that he did not want her to. The next time Mrs. B. came to Jon’s class, he let her work on an assignment with him.

When they finished, Jon ask Mrs. B. to spell her name so that he could write it on the assignment alongside his name because she had helped him. From this session on, Jon was willing to interact with Mrs. B., and they finished second grade with the beginning of a positive relationship.

They resumed meeting in the fall of third grade, with Jon greeting Mrs. B. with a big smile each week and the two of them doing class assignments together and deepening their friendship. Jon made Honor Roll in third grade and continued to do so in fourth and fifth grades.

Now in 2015, Jon is in the middle of sixth grade, and Mrs. B. continues as his mentor-tutor, supporter and friend. It’s easy to believe that it was Mrs. B’s persistence, warmth and reliability, despite Jon’s persistent ignoring of her, that was crucial for his eventual success.

Chaya Kaplan is executive director of A-OK (Assist OUR Kids) Mentoring – Tutoring Inc. (www.aokmentor.org). She can be reached at 410-730-6030.