Communities in Schools Renton (CISR) works with at-risk students and families to provide youngsters with the resources they need to stay in school. Services offered include academic support, physical and mental health care, basic needs such as food and clothing, life skills, and college and career preparation.
One such valuable service is the CISR Mentor Program that has been in existence for 20 years and is currently managed by Mara Fiksdal. She loves the model of mentoring at CISR and is a strong voice for the program.
Mara explained that the purpose of the CISR Mentor Program is to match community volunteers with students in grades 1 to 12 who may be at risk of academic failure. Early intervention is stressed. The school-based mentor program matches a trained adult volunteer with a youngster for one hour a week during the school day at specific target schools within the Renton School District.
Mentors interact with their mentees, establishing open and trusting relationships. Through their presence, students can see school as a positive place to be. A volunteer in the mentor program imparts their experience and capabilities with a youngster. The key to effective mentoring lies in the development of these trusting relationships, which require time and effort on the part of both the volunteer and the student.
The CISR Mentor Program is NOT a tutoring program. Mentoring is based on relationships. Whereas tutoring is functional and typically focuses on academics, the CISR Mentor Program model does not require that a volunteer needs to be an expert or specialist in education. They are looking for people who have a desire to be friends with a student who might otherwise not have a positive role model.
Simply stated, the mentor and the mentee spend an hour a week together talking and playing games. The hour spent is between 9am and 3:30pm, with the time agreed upon ahead of time, and is always the same from week to week. The child has permission to leave the classroom to visit with his or her mentor, and together they decide how they will spend their time together.
The commitment to become a mentor for CISR includes intensive training and a one-year commitment to meet with your student for one hour a week at a set time. Following the school calendar, sessions are not held during school breaks or during the summer. The screening process includes a Washington State Patrol Background Check and mandatory training before a volunteer is matched. In addition to thoughtfully matching mentors with mentees, males are matched with males and females are matched with females. In the 2012-2013 school year, over 200 students were matched and mentored.
Children in the target schools are longing to have a mentor. There are simply not enough volunteers to meet the need. Of note is the fact that boys in particular are requesting mentors. Mara told me the CISR Mentor Program is both a joyful and challenging volunteer opportunity and that the average mentor stays involved in the program for five years, a testament to how engaging and rewarding the volunteer work can be. Mara emphasized that “Having a mentor is a big deal to the kids.”
If you can spare just an hour a week and are interested in making a significant difference in a child’s life, please contact RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.694.6786, and we will put you in touch with CISR where you can do a lot with just a little time each week.