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Columbus Public Schools to start system-wide mentoring program

A couple of years ago Columbus Public Schools announced plans to achieve a 90 percent graduation rate by 2012. Tuesday the Columbus Public Schools introduced a system-wide mentoring program it hopes will help meet the graduation rate goal.

This fall 1,000 Columbus Public School eighth graders will have their very own mentor. It's part of the new program Project Mentor. In 2005, Superintendent Gene Harris announced plans to meet Ohio's graduation rate standard - 90 percent - by 2012. This year's eighth graders will be the class of 2012. And Harris thinks Program Mentor is another step in reaching that goal.

"It will happen during lunch time. So it's an informal kind of situation where the mentor and the mentee will get together over lunch. Perhaps they'll play chess, they'll eat, they'll talk homework, they'll do a number of just informal things that will have all kinds of positive impact on teaching and learning and that child's academic progress," Harris said. The students who will have mentors are considered at-risk for not graduating. Harris said teachers and counselors will refer the children for the mentoring program.

"Well, they are students who need some additional support to stay in school, to make sure they are coming to school every day, to make sure they're getting their lessons and that they know they have someone outside of the school family who really cares about them," Harris said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio will help recruit and train the mentors. Ed Cohn is president and CEO of the organization. He said Project Mentor will help kids put their focus back on school.

"The dictionary calls for tutoring to be helping with an academic subject, whereas mentoring is a wise counselor and guide. These kids have a lot of issues on their mind. And if they have somebody they can come to trust and they feel comfortable talking to about what's happening in their neighborhoods or with their friends and they can download those issues, they can go do their homework," Cohn said.

Nationwide is also taking part in Project Mentor. About 330 of the mentors this fall will be Nationwide employees. Jerry Jurgensen, Nationwide CEO, said company staffers have mentored Windsor Academy students for more than 20 years and are pleased to be able to do more.

"We're talking about the future of our community. We're talking about the future of our state. We're talking about the future of our country. And without an education there is not future. There is no prospect. And the deal has got to be get to college," Jurgensen said.

While there are expected to be 1,000 mentors this coming school year the plan is to eventually get about 10,000 mentors in every Columbus Public School.

Ed Cohn with Big Brothers Big Sisters said even though 10,000 mentors might seem like a lot to manage on top of the organization's traditional program - he said it's not.

"One of the great things about this program is it is very scalable. Our general model is that each program coordinator can handle three schools. For example, this fall there are 24 middle schools. And so that is seven program coordinators and one working supervisor. So when you think in terms of teams of eight to bring on 24 schools at a time it's very scalable," Cohn said.

Harris said mentor expansion could happen in as little as three years.

"Within three to five years we expect to expand to about 10,000 mentors. And we will go down to third grade and up to tenth grade," Harris noted.

She said by third grade teachers can detect behaviors that could give students trouble academically. But Harris said tenth grade is not too late to get a student to stay in school.

"If we get students through the ninth and tenth grades on time, first time around with no failures we are much more likely to get them graduated from high school," Harris said.

Harris said they will monitor Project Mentor. She said they'll look at attendance and behavioral problems. And finally, see if students graduate.

The current graduation rate for Columbus Public Schools is 72.9 percent. That's up more than 17 percentage points since 2001. To meet the state standard Columbus Public Schools must graduate an additional 90 students per year until 2012.