Mentors make a difference in local schools

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On Feb. 5, the St. Johns County School District, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of St. Johns County and other local mentor groups hosted a mentor fair to introduce interested residents to local programs. RSVP focuses on opportunities for people 55 years of age and better to assist children and adults in their educational pursuits. But St. Johns County schools welcome mentors of all ages.

Cheryl Freeman, director of RSVP, began the presentation of an hour-long orientation by asking the group to share attributes of a mentor they had in their lives. Honest, direct and reliable were a few of the responses. Then she invited Charlie Judice, a volunteer who mentored a student from eighth grade through high school, to share his experience. Judice has a PhD in physics and a successful engineering career behind him.

“I mark mentorship as my biggest success,” he said. “…I get back more than I give.”

Judice’s mentee went on to receive a scholarship to the University of Florida, graduated and is now a bank manager. Judice currently mentors a high school student who is interested in aerospace and welding. Judice quickly pointed out that being a mentor is less about teaching and more about showing up. Sometimes it’s just having lunch. An advanced degree is not required.

Mentors schedule about 45 minutes per week to meet with a student to support academic pursuits and other goals. No experience is required and background screening and training are provided at no cost. Even though the district is A-rated, most schools have a need for mentors and Freeman can facilitate a connection.

“One reason we’re No. 1 is because we look at students as individuals,” Freeman said. “All schools are wonderful across the district, but there are still students in need at each school.”

Kris Rodas said she heard about the mentor fair at Ward’s Creek Elementary and decided to learn more about the program because “there are some kids who need a little extra. Kids are so important.”

Another fair attendee, Elle Lynch, stopped at the Pedro Menendez High School table to speak with Kristin Bozeman, assistant principal, and Stephanie Toffaletti, counselor.

“I am looking for a way to put my energy into something to make a difference,” Lynch said.

Assistant Principal Bozeman said mentoring is another tool to help students succeed.

“It’s been very successful, especially with students where motivation is the biggest hurdle,” Bozeman said. There are about a dozen students in the program at Pedro, but there would be more with more mentors.

Counselor Toffaletti said, “If we had 100 mentors, we would have 100 kids to match with them.”

Paul Goricki, principal at Hartley Elementary School, said the mentorship program is irreplaceable because, while traditional teaching provides knowledge, mentors share experiences.

“Now we know kids learn by doing,” Goricki said. “When mentors come in, everybody gets more. They introduce kids to a world of possibility.”

He said it’s important for students to hear about experiences from someone other than school staff. Students interact with teachers almost daily, so having a mentor come in exposes them to a different point of view.

“It enlarges their world,” he said.

For more information, email Cheryl Freeman at Cheryl.Freeman@stjohns.k12.fl.us or call (904) 547-3952.

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