In a town hall-style talk with local college students at Emerson on Feb. 6, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan identified mentoring programs as a major aid in closing the education gap in high and low income communities.
In the past few years, Emerson College-affiliated mentoring organizations like Teach For America, Jumpstart, and Peace First have seen an increase in the number of students eager to participate in such programs.
Mentoring programs, or the placement of high school and college age students in classrooms with young low-income students, are helpful to bolstering the early childhood education necessary for students to succeed in school, according to Duncan and Kerry.
Molly Juhlin, the site manager for Jumpstart at Emerson, said 86 students applied to be a mentor with her program in 2011, up from 66 in 2010. She attributed it to a better marketing campaign.
Juhlin said the mission of Jumpstart -— a nation-wide program that places college students in preschool classrooms with struggling students -— is to increase preparedness of the preschoolers.
“We are working toward a day where every child enters school prepared to succeed,” said Juhlin. “We place caring adults in preschool class for an academic year. It provides more individualized attention they might not get it in a classroom.”
Juhlin said she agrees with Kerry and Duncan, that these types of program do make a difference.
“I think that a mentoring program can play a big part in closing the education gap,” said Juhlin. “Teachers in high need schools have a hard job and we want to provide whatever resources we can.”
Chelsea Moody, a student enrolled in the Jumpstart program now, said she finds the experience rewarding.
“At first you don’t see a difference,” said the sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major. “But by the end, these students that haven’t been able to spell their name or verbalize things, can recognize letters, spell, and are starting to read. And to know you were a part of that it is very rewarding.”
Teach for America, an organization that focuses on training teachers to further their skills in working with low-income students, also found an increased number of Emerson graduates applying to participate in the program over the past five years, said recruitment manager Chris Riha.
“Our philosophy is the idea that the challenges related to children are multi faceted,” said Riha. “They need resources, housing, among other things. We help with these issues.”
Riha said he hopes more Emerson students will want to participate in Teach for America in the future.
“We want to see more interest in the program,” said Riha. “The students have a lot of potential.”
In a 1995 survey of the popular mentoring program Big Brothers Big Sisters by Public/Private Ventures, a national organization dedicated to tracking the effectiveness of social programs, statistics proved the efficacy of a strong mentoring program.
The study, called “Making a Difference, An Impact Study of Big Brothers Big Sisters,” surveyed a group of mentored low-income students who were monitored alongside a group of similar students with no mentors. Researchers found the students with mentors skipped less school, were less likely to engage in drug and alcohol abuse, completed their homework more effectively, and showed gains in grade point average, said a copy of the survey.
Phillip Glenn, a communication studies professor at Emerson, teaches a course called Conflict and Negotiation, in which students can choose to work with the mentoring organization Peace First.
Peace First is a mentoring program dedicated to teaching students conflict resolution skills, according to Glenn.
About eight to 10 students participate in this service project each semester and work with students in Boston public schools.
“The schools need so much and are so underfunded. But having educated, compassionate, young adults there to help makes a big difference,” said Glenn. “To many children from inner city Boston, a place like Emerson is remote to their experience; to meet Emerson students and put a face on them is a great thing.”
During the question and answer session with Emerson students on Feb. 6, Duncan and Kerry said they visited schools in low-income areas to see this kind of program in person.
“It is all about what are we willing to do despite challenges of poverty, to help young people be successful,” said Duncan.
Kerry, who recounted a visit to a school in Harlem in 1992, said he was very impressed with how hard teachers and mentors worked.
“All of those graduates would tell you how their lives have changed,” said Kerry. “It is that labor intensiveness that is so critical.”