Mentors needed to help students prepare for life after high school

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Volunteers are needed to mentor high school juniors and help prepare them for life after high school.

Because the Sweet Home School District 55 recently was awarded a grant to operate a Gear Up program, the Oregon Student Assistance Commission approached the district and asked if it wanted to also add the ASPIRE program.

ASPIRE is the “the state’s largest mentoring program for post-secondary education,” said Kristin Adams, the district’s Gear Up-ASPIRE coordinator. “It’s a volunteer-based program, and it matches students to mentors to extend and enhance the reach of high school counselors.

It cost the district $8,000 to add the ASPIRE program, which will assist juniors this year and eventually expand to every high school grade.

“What I’m looking for is community members that can help with one-on-one mentoring of students to help think about their futures after high school.”

College is just one option, Adams said, rather than focusing entirely on college. Options can include the military, vocational school and apprenticeships, so mentors will work with students instead on career objectives and how to attain those.

Two hours of training will be provided by OSAC on Jan. 14. Following that, Adams will provide training. Initially, students and mentors will spend time getting to know each other.

A manual provides step-by-step instructions about working with students. It also provides college visitation dates, information on SATs and help for preparing for SATs.

“The other big piece is the scholarships,” Adams said. “A lot of kids don’t understand you need to fill out an application accurately.”

Mentors will help organize college and scholarship applica-tions, and the local program is planning four college visits, she said, one of which she hopes will be a sporting event, to help give students a taste of campus life.

“Volunteers just need to have a desire to work with teenage students and be sensitive to the challenges facing our community’s particular teenagers,” Adams said. Students throughout the district face financial challenges, and increasingly local families are below the poverty line.

“So our students are watching their parents just put food on the table,” Adams said. They sometimes can’t think of anything but getting a job to help out. College is not an option.

In 2004, 36 percent of graduating seniors had taken the SAT, Adams said, but unlike the number of families living in poverty, that number is decreasing. In 2007, only about 17 percent of graduating seniors had taken that test.

It’s not a complete picture of what graduates are doing, she said. For example, that number doesn’t represent the number of students who go through community college and into the university system. Those students don’t necessarily have to take SATs.

That’s where Gear Up and ASPIRE can help. Gear Up, which is operating at the junior high level this year will work with students through graduation and provide a scholarship to students who want to go on to college.

In the meantime, ASPIRE will help high school students do that or follow some other career option.

“Our overall goal is to change the culture,” Adams said. “It’s going to be a slow process. So many of our students think college is beyond their reach.”

These programs help show students there really is something beyond high school, she said.

When she graduated from Sweet Home High School in the 1980s, Sweet Home’s socioeconomic status was completely different. Many students didn’t go on to college because they went to work in logging.

Now, Sweet Home has some multi-generational poverty with the changes in the timber industry.

The interest in changing is out there, she said. They want to change their situation and Adams wants to show students that it is achievable.

It isn’t just students who want this, she said. She has had students tell her how their mothers want to go back to school.

The volunteer work also requires a background check, paperwork and fingerprinting, she said. For information, contact her at 367-7177, at Sweet Home High School or by email at [email protected].