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Teaching Empowerment: The GoodGuides® School Based Mentoring Program

7th graders from Pistor Middle School collected books for White Elementary School kindergarteners to take home for the summer to encouraging reading.

As any adult knows, it’s not always easy to get kids to see the value in their education. Luckily for the kids at two middle schools in the Tucson Unified School District, there’s a certain program that not only teaches them the importance of education but also shows them how education directly impacts their future and the future of the community.

Managed by Elaine Everson for the past seven years, Goodwill’s®  GoodGuides® School Based Mentoring Program has been successful since inception, thanks to support from the district and mentors who believe in its mission. Originally an after-school program kids were prone to missing out on, Everson pitched the biggest district in the county about hosting classes during regular school hours and making it part of the curriculum.

“We were very fortunate,” Everson commented. “TUSD was already looking for a way to re-engage their students and they decided the students would benefit from having this program implemented.”

GoodGuides® is active in two of the middle schools in the district: Drachman K-8 and Pistor Middle School.

So how does GoodGuides® School Based Mentoring work? Participating students attend the class just as they would any other subject in school, the lesson is explained and the students are expected to participate in the activities. The difference is, as the former teacher and School-Based Program Coordinator, Jessica Rzepecki, explains there are the adult mentors and life-skills curriculum. Mentors assist students so they engage properly with the material. Each mentor is set up with only four students and knows the curriculum. Typical lessons include topics such as Trust Building, Character Development and Communication Skills. The goal is to prepare the middle school students to excel in high school and in young adulthood.

“The district trusts the program,” Everson pointed out. “We do a lot of fun, value-based activities in the class, and then the students have the opportunity to give back to the community through a service learning project they choose.” According to Everson and Rzepecki, one recent service learning project was a summer book drive. Middle school students gathered books to give out to elementary school students so they had books for summer reading. The results were heartwarming when middle school students read to the kindergartners and helped them pick out their books. “They were all excited,” said Rzepecki.  

“Public schools have cut back on things like artistic and extracurricular activities in recent years,” Everson noted. “We introduce activities that help these students use their creativity when they otherwise might not.” These activities include creating SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely) goals and “vision” boards where the students are able to use arts and crafts materials.

The GoodGuides® School Based Mentoring Program is made possible by the generosity of Goodwill® of Southern Arizona’s supporters—folks who donate, shop at the Goodwill®  stores and those who donate funds directly. Currently, 102 students are enjoying the mentoring program and the team has aspirations to expand it. “This program is completely funded by Goodwill®, so we hope for generosity from the community,” said Everson. “We want people to know their donations go directly to the kids, to invest in their futures.”

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