Columbus leaders seek volunteers for Project Mentor

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Columbus Public Schools and city officials are looking for 1,000 people to help keep the class of 2012 on target to graduate in five years.

Project Mentor is a school-based program that places adults with students who are at risk of dropping out. Mentors meet weekly with their student for about an hour before or after school and focus on both academic and social or emotional needs.

Mayor Michael Coleman, along with his education office directed by Tei Street, set a goal to recruit at least 200 of the 1,000 mentors to help CPS students. More than half of the positions have been filled and organizers hope to have all mentor slots filled for the start of the program.

Volunteer mentors are approved through an application process, then provided with up-front training from Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Mentoring Center of Central Ohio.

Superintendent Gene Harris said she believes the entire community has a stake in ensuring Columbus Public students graduate at the highest rate possible in order to pursue a post-secondary education.

"As a 30-year educator, one hour a week does make a difference," Harris said. "Kids are much less likely to engage in risky behavior and stay in school, stay focused, and graduate. Our young people really depend on us and the kind of leadership that makes a difference. We want to keep them moving forward."

In the latest round of state report cards, Columbus moved from a 59.3 percent graduation rate five years ago to 72.9 percent in 2006-2007.

"I am seeing in our school system progress and I am proud of what’s going on," commented Coleman when the program was announced on Aug. 24 on the steps of city hall. "We’re reaching out to citizens and employers to reach out to students in our school system.

"2012 is our bicentennial year and we are seeking a 90 percent graduation rate as established by Columbus Public Schools. We’re asking employers to reach out and touch the lives of students in our schools and we’re over half-way there. We’re partnering to make Columbus Public Schools the best in the State of Ohio, if not the nation, and I’m going to be one of those mentors."

In 2000, Coleman created the city’s first Office of Education to coordinate educational efforts of neighborhoods, families, and schools. Today, the Capital Kids after-school program serves thousands of urban school children.

Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson, an Eastmoor High School graduate, said she knows from personal experience that students attending Columbus schools can succeed in adult life and people who give of their time and lives can change a neighborhood.

Tyson added Project Mentor has the full support of her fellow council members.

Amber Phillips is senior class president at Columbus Alternative High School and a second-year member of the Columbus Youth Commission. She said when someone you do not know takes an interest in you, it is amazing.

"For people who are struggling, it’s great for someone to help them, especially starting in their freshman year of high school," said Phillips, who plans to major in Political Science when she attends college in 2008. "My first mentor was my drama teacher at Fair Avenue Elementary. Then it was Heidi Yoakum, who got me interested in coming down to city hall. Now it is Charity Martin-Via, who is the coordinator of the Columbus Youth Commission."

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