Wednesday, January 11, 2017

National Mentoring Month and Operation Hope Jr.

Happy New Year from the members of your Unit 4 School Board! On January 9 we held our first regular meeting* of 2017.

Our meeting certainly generated headlines the next day: we announced the names of the three educators who are the finalists for the position of superintendent (see here), and we approved contracts with three firms who will assist our Project Management Team with the upcoming planning and execution of $203.4 million in school facilities projects (see here).

Not to diminish the importance of these actions -- both of these topics will continue to dominate the news from Unit 4 -- but this blog post is about what didn't make the headlines from Monday's meeting: kids, adults, community, and time.

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A representative from Champaign-Urbana One-to-One Mentoring Program and Mentoring Scholarship Foundation -- Ms. Barb Linder -- reminded us that January is National Mentoring MonthUnit 4 has 400 adults from our community who mentor students at our schools each week (and 10% of these mentors are Unit 4 employees). Readers, won't you consider joining them by committing to spending one hour per week with a student who just needs a little extra support and encouragement in order to thrive?

With the consistent support of a mentor, youth "on the brink of success" are:
  • 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school
  • 46% less likely than their peers to start using drugs
  • 78% more likely than their peers to volunteer regularly in their community
Unit 4 recognizes the value and power of the mentoring relationship by employing mentor/volunteer coordinators at each campus, under the supervision of Lauren Smith, our Community Outreach Coordinator (who was recently honored as the November 2016 Champaign Unit 4 School District Staff Spotlight winner).

Two-hour training sessions for new mentors are scheduled soon, so don't delay! If you are unable right now to make the mentor commitment, recruit a friend for the opportunity. For more information, contact the mentor/volunteer coordinator at your school or Lauren Smith (smithla@u4sd.org).

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Also on the topic of mentoring, Assistant Superintendent Angela Smith and Mr. Pancho Moore updated the Board about a group mentoring project now operating in its second school year, Operation Hope Junior.

The project's name alludes to Operation Hope, a nearly 10-year-old collaboration between the City of Champaign, Unit 4, the Champaign Park District, and the United Way connecting high school students with job training, college visits, tutoring, and community service work. Operation Hope Jr. is a pilot program targeting unmet needs of middle school students whose academic and discipline data showed a need for earlier intervention, especially during summer months when school-based support systems may not be in place. It came about as a result of collaboration between the Community Coalition, the Access Initiative, and Unit 4.

18 young men participated in Operation Hope Jr.'s inaugural 6-week summer session in 2015, then continued with weekly meetings during 2015-2016. During the current school year (2016-2017), 29 students at all three Unit 4 middle schools are participating.

Mr. Moore coordinates a bevy of dynamic community volunteers (including two current Unit 4 Board members, Mr. Jonathan Westfield and Mr. Chris Kloeppel) who participate in Operation Hope Jr. almost every week. Besides hearing from motivational guest speakers, the students read novels and biographies, learn Advanced Placement reading strategies, discuss a wide array of career options, write journal entries about meaning in their own lives, exercise, and participate in outings and cultural fieldtrips.

With mentoring programs such as Operation Hope Jr., it is difficult to overstate the importance of time -- both the number of hours that adults spend with students, and the length of time that it takes to build trust and lasting relationships between these students and adults in our community. There are no shortcuts when it comes to relationship-building, a fact known by every educator who resists the trend of operating schools as businesses.

Nevertheless, some sort of evaluation is necessary, both to fine-tune a program's structure and to justify the expense to taxpayers. Monday night's report touched on discipline data as well as quantitative and qualitative evaluations from students and their teachers. In the words of organizers, "Our goal is to continue to support these young men, track their achievement throughout their adolescent years and guide them on a path to success. The program is inspiring students to take control of their own story and reach their personal goals that include improved discipline and academic performance."

Kids, adults, community, and time: the essence of education. Consider how you can participate or provide support for these and other efforts taking place in Unit 4 every day.


To write this blog post, I borrowed freely from material already written about these programs by Stephanie Stuart and Angela Smith; any errors are of course my own.

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* Meeting Logistics:
We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period.

You can find the meeting agenda here on BoardDocs by navigating to the "Meetings" tab, clicking on the meeting date, and then clicking "View the Agenda." (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.)

The schedule of meetings is available here; meeting minutes are posted here (once they are approved at a later meeting); and meeting videos can be viewed here.

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