With January recognized as National Mentoring Month, Carmel mentors continue to dedicate time to their mentees. Comprising one of the most active mentor programs in the county, Carmel’s eight mentors provided mentoring to 16 students, both individually and in small groups, for a total of 112 hours during the 2011-12 school year.
Pettit, who splits her time between Carmel and Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy, said Carmel has six mentors this year.
“They all have great ideas about how to help the kids,” Pettit said.
Kay Hart, who taught at Hickory Flat Elementary School for the last 15 years of her 30-year teaching career, helped initiate the program three years ago.
“Somebody called me out of the clear blue sky and just said that they needed mentors over here,” the Woodstock resident said. “That was at the beginning of my retirement, so I felt whatever the Lord opened up, I was going to go toward. I just felt like after spending so much time in education that I wanted to give back.”
Hart said she mostly focuses on academic work with her mentees.
“I also try to help them come up with skills that will help them do work at home,” she said. “I know many of them don’t have people to help them so (we make) some kind of flash cards and just skills I work toward having them know so they can work on their own at home.”
Hart said many of her mentees are smart, but have often missed out on opportunities their other classmates have had.
“When they realize they can do something they didn’t think they could, it’s great,” she said.
But Hart said she realized that her bonds with her mentees are more than just about getting better grades.
“It hit home with me that the academics are important but just talking to them makes them feel as if they’re special,” she said.
A former teacher for 16 years, mentor Louise Alexander said her mentee, a third-grade boy, has been a challenge, but she has made great strides over the last year. When the boy failed to pass any of his spelling tests, she offered him $10 if he made a 100 percent score on his test.
“He said, ‘What about a 90?’ I said no. He said, ‘What about a 99?’ I said no,” Alexander said.
She continually came in Thursdays, the day before his weekly spelling tests, and he finally reached his goal.
“He came running up to me, ‘Miss Alexander! I did it!’ and I made sure to give him his reward,” she said.
Angie Clark, a lifelong Cherokee County resident and graduate of Etowah High School, mentors three students at Carmel. Clark has two children, a fourth-grader and a fifth-grader, who also attend Carmel.
“The reason I mentor is because I struggled with reading and I felt like I was kind of lost in the gaps,” Clark said. “I feel like this is the foundation, here in elementary school, where we can reach them.”
Clark mentors two young boys together and one girl individually once a week during the morning before school starts.
With no teaching background and two years of college, Clark said the mentoring program is about making a connection rather than academic ability.
“I was not your straight-A student,” she said. “It’s really just about spending the time and someone knowing that you care.”
Clark said she has an agreement with the two boys she mentors that if they turn in all of their assignments and make passing grades by the end of the school year, she will teach them how to fish. Since they have to stay on campus, she said she plans to bring a baby pool filled with water and use weights instead of fishing hooks to teach the boys how to cast a line and reel it in.
She added she’s appreciated the opportunity to make a connection with her mentees that education is important. One of her male students is a football player, but she said he didn’t realize he would need to keep up his grades in high school to keep playing his favorite sport.
“Now he has something to work for.” Clark said.
Nicole Lathan of Woodstock is also a parent of two children who attend Carmel. As a nurse who works night shifts, she said she’s able to come in during the day and help.
Lathan shared Clark’s sentiment that mentoring is all about paying attention to the child. She said she had a fifth-grade girl last year whose mother died very young and often moved between different family members.
“Because of the — for lack of a better word — chaos that was going on, she just needed someone that was focusing on her,” Lathan said. “We did read and we did do her academic work, but at the same time it was about listening to her day and what she had going on.”
However, Pettit said the volunteers are “just the beginning” of the school’s need for extra help in addition to what its three counselors can provide.
“Some of these kids need so much,” she said. “As a counselor, it helps me to know that some of these needs are being met. All three of us, even when we were all full-time, this helped us to meet the needs a few more kids.”
Generally, Pettit said mentors spend about 30 minutes with a mentee or small group of mentees about once a week.
“You might think 30 to 40 minutes once a week is not going to have an impact, but it does,” Pettit said. “It’s amazing the impact it has.”
Those looking to mentor, like all school volunteers, must go through a background check and fingerprinting as well as an hour-long one-on-one training session with Pettit, she said.
“Typically, people that we use are people that have really good people skills,” she said.
Pettit said mentors also should love to spend time with children and enjoy building relationships.
“It’s a lot about listening,” she said.
After each session, mentors fill out a report so Pettit can keep track of student progress.
“They also often communicate with the teachers directly, too,” she said. “The teachers can let them know if there’s something specific they would like them to help the student with.”
Pettit said she hasn’t been able to grow the program as quickly as she would like because she splits her time between both schools and hopes to attract more potential mentor candidates.
She said she is willing to work with anyone’s schedule who might be interested in mentoring. Most importantly, she said anyone interested should be passionate about student success.
“These kids need extra people in their village,” she said.