The Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters school mentor program is not as well known as its community-based program. The latter involves meeting with a child two or three times a month. The school mentor program matches a caring adult with a student at a school site for one hour a week.
Executive Director Kathleen Murphy talked about the collaboration between Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters and the three school districts - Chino Valley, Humboldt and Prescott - at a Tri-District Partnership luncheon this past week at the Prescott Resort.
Superintendent Duane Howard, Chino Valley Unified School District, pointed out to about 35 people in the audience that these types of programs never stopped one child from becoming pregnant; it is the attention and support of one adult to one child.
"Programs also never stopped one child from taking drugs. The only thing that helps is the relationships we can build with our students," Howard said. "We make a difference one child at a time."
While the organization is looking to create more adult-child matches at school sites, it already has student-to-student mentorships happening in all three districts. Chino Valley High School students meet with elementary and middle school students in the Del Rio gym for an hour after school on Wednesdays, said Michael Smith, match advisor and school site-based coordinator.
"We have 24 matches," Smith said, adding that the older students help the younger ones to complete their homework. They also participate in games and recently cleaned up the school grounds as a service project.
In the Humboldt Unified School District, Supt. Paul Stanton said the mentors work with students on improving their grades, behavior and leadership skills. He pointed out that sixth grade is when a child begins to consider dropping out of school.
"It's important at that age to have an anchor," Stanton said.
He especially would like to see adults step into a mentor position at the middle school and high school levels, or think about tutoring in the primary grades.
Murphy, who has been a Big Sister seven times and still stays in contact with a now 53-year-old Little Sister, said finding Bigs for middle school students aged 11 to 14 or 15 is a problem. The YBBBS wants to see more one-to-one matches take place in schools or the community.
Right now, YBBBS needs to create 60 more matches by June 30 for children 11-14 years old as part of a federal research grant through the Office of Juvenile Justice. The grant provides for 80 matches, and 20 have been set up to date. Half of the Bigs will receive special training in "motivational interviewing" skills that include how to communicate with children in a manner that leads the children to find their own answers and make their own decisions.
"There also is a volunteerism piece to the grant, which is proven to be an important part of resiliency. It makes a person feel valuable," Murphy said.
The other half receives the usual support from their match advisors. The matches can be school mentors, community based, or couple or family matches. Teachers, librarians, nurses, and school administrators often refer children to the program. Murphy said research shows that children matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister were 53 percent less likely to be arrested as juveniles.
"This isn't a program that just feels good. It really works," she said.
Hoping to reach the retired educator population, Murphy said she sent out 400 invitations to the luncheon. Former Prescott teacher Karen Henichek and her Little, Ruby Betterton, couldn't say enough about how perfectly matched they were.
"I was called a motor-mouth and her dad calls her a chatterbox," Henichek said.
Ruby listed other similarities they shared: brown hair, love of arts and crafts, same astrological sign - Capricorn, love of music, and even their house address numbers are the same four digits.
When Henichek brought Ruby to see the Gingerbread Village over the holidays, it was Ruby's first visit to the Resort. Afterwards, the young girl called it "the best day of my life." She also proudly announced that her math grades have improved, thanks to Henichek's tutoring help.
CVUSD Supt. Howard said it was one adult, a teacher in high school, who made a comment that positively impacted his life.
"What a feeling to be told you were smart," he said. "We want to see this program grow."
For more information on the YBBS, call 928-778-5135 or visit azbigs.org.