Volunteers lend their VOICE to mentor program
September 15, 2009
By Christopher Huber
If you walk through the halls of almost any school in the Issaquah School District this year, you might see your neighbor working with a student on his or her math homework, or helping him or her write a book report.
You might wonder why the student is not in class during the school day, but he or she is just getting a little extra help from a mentor with the VOICE program.
With funding from the Issaquah Schools Foundation and the school district, Volunteers of Issaquah Changing Education is entering its seventh year of helping struggling students get back on track.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things anyone can do,” said Wendie Rosenberg, a mentor at Cascade Ridge Elementary School. “Parents love it, because it’s one-on-one time with their kids.”As of last spring, the program, which places community members with students for an hour each week, had mentors helping 160 students in 19 schools, said Susan Gierke, the organization’s director.
“It’s an amazing group of volunteers who reach out to make a difference with these kids,” Gierke said. “The mentors, they love what they’re doing. They feel they’re getting more out of it than the kids do.”
The program began in 2003, after the schools foundation conducted a districtwide academic needs assessment, Gierke said. They recognized that not all students had the support they needed at school, so they decided to form the organization to bring community volunteers (mentors) into the schools for an hour a week.
“One of those tools is to have support. They didn’t have all that in place,” Gierke said.
The program began at Issaquah Valley Elementary School and only took a few years to spread, she said.
As word got out to the community, business owners, parents and even other students in the district began to volunteer, Gierke said.
Each mentor typically helps just one student throughout the school year at their school and works during the school day on any issues a student is facing — math, science problems or study skills.
Tera Coyle, principal at Discovery Elementary School, worked as a VOICE coordinator for three years and now sees the impact the program has on students at her school.
“I would see the mentor work with the same student year after year after year. The students had more of a positive outlook on education,” she said. “They had somebody there that was rooting them on consistently.”
Discovery fourth-grader Mykelynn Martin is really happy she’s had the chance to work with a mentor for the past year.
The 10-year-old said she is excited to get more help this school year on her math once a week. Last year, her mentor was Bill Magee.
“I recommended him to come back because he helped me a lot and I need some more help this year,” she said. “My favorite thing is, probably, he’ll sit down and talk to me and explain what I didn’t get … and we would do the problem. It helped me a lot.”
Martin said she’s gained a lot more confidence in math, especially in multiplication.
“I didn’t know there was a multiplication table, so he made me one of those,” she said. “My confidence just kept getting up and up because of that.”
Some mentors, like Rosenberg, work with up to three students each week. At the elementary-school level — Rosenberg mentors first- and second-graders — the students think it’s cool that some of their peers get special help. It’s not stigmatized, like it often is at the middle- and high-school levels.
“Kids see it as real special time,” Rosenberg said. Teachers say “you were chosen out of this whole class to work with this special person.’”
Coyle said that in all the time she’s worked with the program, no parent has given a negative review of their child’s experience with a mentor, and many say their student looks forward to the time each week.
“It’s a great opportunity to work as a team with teachers and the staff at the school,” said Rosenberg, a former teacher. “It makes me realize how much I really do love teaching.”
Call 837-7139 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the VOICE program, or to volunteer as a mentor.
Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, or email@example.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.