Mentoring program expands from middle to high schools

Hopes inititative will raise graduation rate in Duval County

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In addition to resolutions like eating healthier or hitting the gym, we are also exploring ways people resolve to be their best through giving back to the community.

With January's National Mentoring Month in full swing, Communities In Schools of Jacksonville's Victoria Carlucci discusses how you can get involved in shaping the lives of struggling students through her organization's new high school mentoring program.

Former Communities In Schools student Dominic Cummings shares his insights on his positive experience as a Communities in Schools mentee during middle school.

Carlucci says the Communities In Schools mentoring programs focus on building relationships between students and adults to give students the support they need to succeed . She says it's support that they may or may not have at home.

"Some of our students are hungry or their electricity may be out," Carlucci says. "They may have experienced violence at home or in their neighborhood. They could be tripled up at grandma's house or living at a hotel. It's hard to concentrate on school when you have all so many challenges going on in your life."

Carlucci says in the Duval County school district 28 percent of students don't graduate on time or at all. To help change this, Communities In Schools has operated a middle school mentoring program since 2007.

"This program has proven successful with 97 percent of the students participating moving on to the next grade level," Carlucci says. "We anticipate similar success with the high school program."

Dominic Cummings was assigned a mentor through the Communities In Schools middle school mentoring program. Now he's a college graduate pursuing a master's degree, working at a local financial institution and volunteering as a mentor himself.

Cummings says he was a shy 11?year?old struggling in school. Surrounded by seven siblings, he admits he lacked the extra attention he needed to stay with his grade level. Cummings says that changed when he found Communities In Schools. The organization's after?school program offered Cummings tutoring that improved his grades and provided him with a mentor who helped boost his confidence and motivate him to achieve more in life.

Cummings said these changes revealed life's possibilities and made learning an adventure. Cummings stayed connected with his Communities In Schools family as he finished high school and eventually became the first male in his family to earn a college degree, an achievement that marked "the proudest moment of his life." He is now working full time as a banker and continuing his education in graduate school. He is still involved with Communities In Schools but on the other side of the fence as a mentor.

Communities in Schools is planning for more success stories like Cumming's with the high school mentoring program.

Carlucci says High school students face a whole different set of challenges than middle school kids.

"Entering ninth grade is usually a big adjustment," Carlucci says, "Balancing more educational demands, responsibilities, social pressures and independence. They only have four years until they're out in the "real world." That can be overwhelming for any student, let alone for students who have been struggling throughout their education."

Carlucci says it's easy for mentors to get involved and it's less time-consuming than you would think.

"Mentors don't have to meet any specific qualifications, "Carlucci says. "We just complete background checks on them once their applications are approved. And as far as the time commitment, by dedicating just one hour every other week, mentors have the opportunity to change a life. And that life may just be theirs. The mentors in our middle school program overwhelmingly report that their mentees have given just as much back to them as they have to their mentees."

Communities In Schools is in the process of signing up mentors for its new high school mentoring program. If you're interested in getting involved, visit cisjax.org.