Columbus Public Schools announce landmark program

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A new coalition was announced in a press conference on July 17 between Columbus Public Schools (CPS), Nationwide Foundation and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio (BBBS) at the Columbus Africentric Early College Secondary School auditorium.

All three are partnering together to initiate Project Mentor, a school-centered mentoring program connecting the mentoring techniques of BBBS and the expertise of CPS, along with the sponsorship of the Nationwide Foundation.

The spokesperson for Project Mentor is well known Columbus native, Archie Griffin. Griffin was unable to attend the conference but will appear in several TV Public Service Announcements. Griffin is considered a powerful influence, considering he is a CPS graduate, and places a high value on mentoring.

Project Mentor will also support Project 2012, which is the goal to increase the graduation rate from the current rate of 72.9 percent to the state rate of 90 percent, starting with the eighth grade class, slated to graduate in 2012.

In order to accomplish this, Project Mentor’s goal is to sign up 1,000 volunteer mentors for the upcoming school year and eventually bring in 10,000 mentors for the CPS school district.

“We believe that the entire community has a stake in making certain that CPS students graduate at the highest rate possible, are prepared to pursue post-secondary education, and undertake a rewarding career or enter the military,” said Dr. Gene T. Harris, Superintendent of Columbus Public Schools in a statement.

Harris said, in the press conference, that the 1,000 students who will receive the mentor’s guidance will be students identified by the principal or school staff as benefiting the most from this program. The amount of students receiving mentoring total about 20 percent of the 5,000 total students in the eighth grade class.

She went on to emphasize that for this collaboration to succeed, it is imperative that the community get directly involved.  

“We need business and community members to offset risk factors such as poverty and lack of positive adult role models outside the homes and schools, with the objective of developing trust, forming healthy relationships and connecting what students do at school with a career,” said Harris.   

Harris expressed certainty that Project Mentor and Project 2012 is a wise investment in the community, because as graduation rates increase, the community costs normally related to dropouts, such as money for social services, health services and incarcerations would decrease, so these initiatives would cause a upward-climbing economic effect.

Ed Cohn, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, explained that the Project Mentor plan is a one-on-one program that fosters a relationship between the mentor and the child, which centers on both academics and the personal needs of the child.

“We believe there’s a tipping point that if we mentor enough kids, the entire school environment will change for the better,” said Cohn.

Mentoring volunteers would have to go through an application process, a background check and “up-front training” from the BBBS and the Mentoring Center of Ohio.

Once approved, BBBS has program coordinators to perform a variety of tasks to get things underway. Coordinators manage the volunteer schedules, arrive before the volunteers and leave after the volunteers, and provide case management, supervision and support to the mentors.

The time commitment for would-be mentors is at least one hour a week during or after school.   

Jerry Jurgensen, CEO of Nationwide, said he and Nationwide have been longtime supporters of education at CPS for over 20 years, through its participation in the Partners for Education Program with Windsor Academy and personally serving as a business sponsor for the Principal for a Day for the last four years.

Jurgensen said the health of the public educational system is the biggest issue for the future, not only in Columbus, but also in the state of Ohio and in the country at-large.

“If we don’t get public education turned around and produce kids that not only aspire to go to college but are aptly prepared to go to college and do the work, this country’s in serious trouble,” said Jurgensen.

Jurgensen went on to challenge other local companies to also encourage their employees to volunteer as mentors and support these programs financially.

“We’re not aware of a program like this anywhere else in the country,” Jurgensen said. “With the success we expect, it could become a model for other school districts.”

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