A New Jersey middle school student went from getting D’s and F’s to getting A’s with the help of a writing mentor.
David Israel, 13, a student at Helen Fort Middle School in Pemberton, NJ, said he had never done particularly well in the classroom. But recently he’s been able to turn that around with the help of a mentorship program with graduate students at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ.
The middle school students and their graduate school mentors communicate through Google Docs, Helen Fort spokeswoman Jeanne Mignella told the Ellwood City Ledger in an email. “This year’s topic was Grit and Resilience, in keeping with the character education theme at the middle school.”
Mentors communicate with up to three students. In addition to help with writing, mentors provide support and advice for other areas of students’ lives. More than 60 middle school students participate in the program.
In December students traveled to Rider University to meet their mentors face-to-face for the first time. Three of the students were chosen to read before the whole group.
Amanda Schott, the language arts teacher who coordinates the program at the middle school, said having someone else besides the teacher look at the students’ writing makes students feel less like they’re being critiqued and more like they’re communicating with a pen pal.
David Israel said the program has helped him gain his confidence and has made him feel good.
Although this mentoring program is focused on writing, intergenerational relationships are key for adolescents as they discern what is worth writing about and what is worth living for. For students who lack other role models in their lives, this sort of mentorship can be transformative.
Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture Postdoctoral Research Associate Andrew Lynn in his review of Robert Putnam’s Our Kids approvingly noted Putnam’s emphasis on the social capital provided by life-saving relationships that are intergenerational: “A working-class high school quarterback gets to college because a football coach guides him through the application process. A high-achieving but alienated minority high school student finds educational support in an older white woman . . .”
Putnam identified a “mentoring gap” which must be filled by programs like the Rider University writing mentorship program. And, as Lynn observes, even a small number of these relationships can make a difference. It certainly did for David Israel.
If you’re considering serving as a mentor in your community, the National Mentoring Partnership has a clearinghouse to help identify opportunities to serve.