01-25-19 - Lilburn, GA - Mentor Gretchen Barker talks with sixth-grader Ruby Garcia during a weekly mentoring session at Lilburn Middle School in Lilburn, Ga., on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Casey Sykes
Photo: Casey Sykes

Gwinnett schools launch Hispanic student mentoring program

Gwinnett County Public Schools began its Community Based Mentoring Program a decade ago to combat problems with English and math proficiency, attendance, discipline and graduation rates.

The program’s focus was to help black students - boys at first, then girls a year later.

Now, with about 30 percent of Gwinnett’s student population identifying as Hispanic, the school district launched a segment for that group.

The three programs help connect potential community mentors with students to provide guidance, encouragement and support to help them become successful young adults, both in and out of school, officials said.

“As a community we must join efforts to help our children see the potential they have. It has been proven that mentoring supports the growth of children in all aspects of their lives, including academic and social goals,” said Nury Crawford, director of the Community Based Mentoring Program for Hispanic Students.

Of the nearly 2,000 high school dropouts in the 2016-2017 school year in Gwinnett County, about six percent were black and about 10 percent were Hispanic.

Crawford said studies show that mentors can play an important role in providing young people with the tools to make responsible decisions, attend and participate in school, and reduce or avoid risky behaviors. In turn, school officials say these young people are:

• 55 percent more likely to be enrolled in college;

• 81 percent more likely to participate in sports or extracurricular activities;

• 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities;

• More than twice as likely to say they occupied a leadership position in a club or sports team.

The program is aimed at sixth-grade through graduation.

“We’re looking to add college tours and other field trips to introduce these students to possibilities and help them believe in themselves,” said Crawford. “Self confidence is a tool that will help them succeed in whatever they choose to do.”

Gretchen Barker heard about a program at Lilburn Middle School where adults are encouraged to help students with reading and decided to give it a try.

She meets with sixth-grader Ruby Garcia at the school on Friday mornings. It was slow-going at first, but both Barker and Ruby have seen progress — in the student’s grades and personality.

That hour every Friday morning became a highlight of Barker’s week. As the director of the Children’s Ministry at Union Grove United Methodist Church, Barker said she was used to working with children. And as a piano teacher and former preschool director, she had experience helping children succeed and she enjoyed the feeling that provides.

“Middle school can be a difficult time in life and knowing how to build positive relationships is an important step,” said Barker. “I have more than enough time to give and this is such a worthwhile cause.”

She like several others in the reading program have signed on to take their committment further than just reading to become part of the Community Based Mentoring Program for Hispanic Students. They will take the kids on outings, engage in more intense study sessions, if needed and just spend more time with them.

“It isn’t enough to merely claim that you support positive change within your community or your country. Change requires action and participation. If only more of us put their words into action, this change could become reality,” said Barker. “I hope that my positive experience with the mentoring program inspires more individuals to take action and change our world for the good of all.”

Those wishing to be a part of the mentoring program, don’t need a background similar to Barker’s.

“It is easy to be a mentor, you need the desire to make a difference in a student’s life, be 21 years old or older, complete the application, the orientation and the background check process,” said Crawford.

This year’s goals are to recruit, train, support and retain enough men and women in the community to serve as volunteer mentors and positive role models for 900 black males, 300 black females and 65 Hispanic youth.

Crawford’s office has set up an inauguration event 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Meadowcreek High School, 4455 Steve Reynolds Blvd. in Norcross, where mentors, students and parents will be present. Based on enrollment data, Crawford is focusing on the Bermar and Meadowcreek clusters.

Ruby is bilingual, but her mother struggles with English. Crawford said she sees many immigrant families who struggle.

“This program will help the whole child by helping the whole family, the whole community,” said Crawford.

Crawford immigrated to the U.S. from Peru. Before heading the Hispanic mentoring program, she was an assistant principal at Dacula Middle School.

“This [program] helps students see there is power in their culture. They shouldn’t be ashamed to speak Spanish as well as English,” she said.

Even though National Mentoring Month is wrapping up this week, educators want to keep its importance front of mind.

“We will never have too many people who care about children,” said Crawford.

For more information about the Community Based Mentoring Program for Hispanic Students, contact Nury Crawford at 770-277-4498.

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