College mentors to work with 8th-graders on thriving in school

A new Mentor-Scholar Program will pair as many as 75 SUNY Oswego students with Oswego Middle School students identified as at risk of falling behind or dropping out before graduation.

A state Education Department report on graduation rates found that of the Oswego City School District students who began high school in 2006, 11 percent had dropped out by 2010 while 73 percent of their peers graduated with Regents or local diplomas. The remainder were still trying or had converted to other diploma programs, such as the GED.

“President (Deborah F.) Stanley wanted to start a mentor program here to assist in decreasing the eventual dropout rate in Oswego High School,” said Michael Marr, a 2008 graduate of SUNY Oswego who leads the program as part of his AmeriCorps-VISTA service. “We aim for much higher numbers (of four-year graduates).”

Marr, whose supervisor is Alyssa Amyotte, coordinator of service learning and community service at SUNY Oswego, said the program will start with at-risk students in Oswego Middle School’s eighth grade, and plans to support them through high school.

“We’re trying to build their self-confidence, build their self-efficacy, give them their own tools to be effective students and, down the road, to be good citizens,” said Marr, who earned a master of arts teaching degree in adolescence education-social studies at Binghamton University. “We’ll be working on homework, working on study skills, working on interpersonal skills.”

Superintendent’s support

The Oswego City School District is excited to participate with SUNY Oswego in an initiative that will greatly benefit its students, Superintendent William Crist said.

“The Mentor-Scholar Program will provide additional guidance and academic assistance to identified students at the middle school who are potentially at risk of falling behind or simply are in need of support, either academically, behaviorally or emotionally,” Crist said. “Additionally, the SUNY Oswego students will provide a valuable connection to our students about the college experience by discussing the path to higher education and related training that can prove extremely important as young students begin to contemplate their future and the goals necessary to realize the same.”

SUNY Oswego students taking an upper-division service-learning course will receive two credit hours on completion of a yearlong mentoring assignment and other course requirements. Each college student will meet with a middle school partner twice a week for about an hour each session.

The college students stand to gain a great deal, Marr said. “They get to put their social justice values into practice. We are working with students who truly need the help and who aren’t likely to get it in other ways,” he said. “Everyone who has signed up so far has been passionate about helping their community and about service learning. I’ve been very impressed with those who have signed up.”

SUNY Oswego students in the Mentor-Scholars Program will train during the last week in September at Oswego Middle School in a program designed by Principal Mary Beth Fierro. The mentors will meet with their young partners for the first time early in October.

Oswego Middle School staff members “have been fantastic,” Marr said. “They’re very accommodating, they have great ideas, they’re very excited about the program.”

Besides the biweekly sessions, mentors and mentees will get together at least four other times this semester for activities such as campus visits and Artswego performances.

“Some of these eighth-graders are right at the point where they’re asking themselves, ‘Is secondary education for me?’” Marr said. “If we can catch them right at this early point, if we can get them valuing education—valuing it as a way of progressing their lives—then we can drastically decrease their chances of dropping out later on.”

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(Posted: Sep 19, 2011)