The Pueblo West View

United Way expands mentoring program

Local community members are helping to influence and support students at Liberty Point International School through a mentoring program with United Way Pueblo County.

The middle school mentoring program was started three years ago at Heaton Middle School in Pueblo City School District 60.

After seeing the successes students have had, the United Way decided to expand the program to Liberty Point International and Pueblo Academy of Arts this year.

Through the program, 10 students who are identified to be “at risk” are paired with local adults who spend at least one hour a week during lunch with them, helping to provide a healthy, positive relationship.

“At risk can mean that students have academic success, but also social needs or emotional needs. Basically they’re students that just don’t have the same support structures in place as other students do,” said Liberty Point International Principal Brian Dilka.

“These students tend to struggle with academics, attendance and just functioning in the school environment on a day-to-day basis.”

Lawrence Kochis, Campaign Director for United Way Pueblo County and the man behind the idea for the local mentoring program, said he is thrilled to see the progress of students that have been involved in the program so far and hopes to see the same successes at Liberty Point International.

“The big thing is to grow that one-on-one relationship,” Kochis said. Mentors are paired with sixth graders so they can eventually spend three years together through the program. “We don’t expect a lot the first year, but in the second year is where we

are seeing the most growth.”

For example, Kochis said the 10 students at Heaton that are now eighth graders started with 30 F-grades between them as sixth graders. As of their most recent report cards, there are seven students with no Fs at all. Suspensions have also dropped.

“The biggest thing is their engagement at school,” Kochis said.

“Part of mentoring is to teach decision making and problem solving and to look to the future and blend it with education. We’re not looking for grades. We want good decisions – do your homework, attend class, don’t get suspended.”

Heaton now has 30 students total who have mentor relationships (10 at each grade level).

Although the current eighth graders will “graduate” out of the program at the end of the school year, Kochis said he knows most of the relationships will continue outside of school.

Next year’s sixth grade class will include 10 new mentoring relationships.

At LPI, mentors visit during lunchtime at least once a week, pulling students from the lunchroom to the library where they eat, talk and do activities from working on homework to play games or using computers.

“It just focuses on establishing that adult relationship that they may or may not have elsewhere. Someone that really cares,” Dilka said.

“We invite the parents in too to meet the mentors as well, and that provides parents with another resource that they may not have had before.”

Dilka said the mentoring relationships, which started at Liberty Point International in November, have already started to have positive results, as none of the 10 students currently has an attendance issue.

“The kids light up when they see their mentors walk in,” Dilka said.

“I actually have to chase kids away that want to be part of the program and aren’t involved!”

The original idea came about five years ago, Kochis said, when United Way Pueblo County looked at statistics that showed the graduation rate in Pueblo City Schools was only about 70 percent, which is much below the state average.

“I was given the task of looking around to find some programs that might work here, and I found one in Vermont called Let’s Do Lunch,” Kochis said. “We adapted it to Pueblo and then asked if we could put it into a middle school.

“We found that middle school is where we needed to get to kids. Those transition years are the most difficult, going from elementary to middle school, from one teacher to several, and classes get tougher.”

Kochis said if students are failing math or science or having behavior issues leaving eighth grade, a whopping 80 percent of those students won’t graduate from high school.

So middle school seemed like the best years to reach students and improve on those statistics.

Heaton Middle School stepped forward to test the program, and adults from local businesses were eager to help out. The program blossomed from there.

Through the program, mentors and students involved get to go on a couple of field trips each year.

Special trips allow extra opportunities for the relationships to become stronger.

The Director of Education for Colorado Big Brother, Big Sister comes to Pueblo to train the mentor adults, and complete background checks are done on all volunteers.

“We picked LPI because it has a lot of the same demographics as Heaton does,” Kochis said.

“There’s higher mobility rate and a lot of poverty in that area, kids living with single-parent families or other family members. So we are excited to see where it will go.”

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