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Jun 09 2012

Raising Our Next Generation of Citizens

Most people probably think about raising children to be responsible adults. I’m willing to bet that many people don’t give much thought to the responsibility we have to raise the next generation of citizens. It’s a conscious decision we must make to guarantee the future of the quality of life we enjoy in Rogers today.

School counseling has come a long way since I was growing up in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. We are fortunate that Rogers is a great public school district and that we have a great charter school like the Benton County School of the Arts as well as many private schools and a strong home school network. There are many programs for high-potential students. There are good opportunities for the majority of students.

The greatest need of all

Photo of an at-risk studentThere’s a group of our residents that needs our attention the most. It is our at-risk students. Some come from tough family situations, experience bad circumstances outside their control, made choices that complicated their lives, or struggle with behavior issues. Some have never lived in a family where the parents worked and even cooked meals and cleaned house. Some don’t know what a normal, loving, healthy family looks like let alone what it means to be a contributing member of a community’s economy.

Unless you have an at-risk child of your own, you probably don’t know about Crossroads (click here to learn more about alternative education in Rogers). It is the district’s alternative school. It is run by a devoted staff, and the classes are structured in a way that enables more students to succeed if they truly want to. Without that school, students like my daughter might not have a high school diploma. These are kids that usually don’t go to college and move away. They will probably live here the rest of their lives and raise another generation here.

Mentoring is a key part of the puzzle

This is a group of citizens that needs a mentoring program. There are a handful of nonprofits that incorporate mentoring. One is Big Brothers Big Sisters, an established national organization. The other is a new local nonprofit called Saving Grace that provides living arrangements and life skills training for girls who have aged out of foster care (possibly our most endangered population of at-risk kids). Saving Grace arranges three mentors for each girl — one her age, one her mom’s age, and one her grandmother’s age. Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County has a mentoring program for its scholarship recipients.

There is much more to do in the arena of mentoring. Many, many more kids are slipping through the cracks and need our attention and guidance. A strong mentoring program would pair these at-risk kids with mentors who would take their hand and broaden their view of the world. A mentor can give an at-risk kid an idea of what it means to overcome and achieve. But even though they have the most critical need, mentoring shouldn’t just be for the at-risk kid.

Every student should have access to a mentoring program. A mentoring program could connect a student who wants to become an engineer to someone who works at an engineering firm so he could get a first-hand look at what that career involves. A student who is interested in the medical field could use the mentoring program to find job-shadowing opportunities with nurses, doctors, or respiratory therapists. A student who is interested in student government could find an opportunity to work on a local political candidate’s campaign. The opportunities are endless. All it takes is a community program that provides a little guidance and the structure to document potential mentors.

What you aren’t expecting

Here is one thing that no one publicizes about mentoring: The mentor grows as much or more as the mentee does. Mentors learn about creating relationships and communicating. They refine their problem-solving skills as they help mentees. They even find themselves giving great advice that they needed to be reminded to take as well. They garner a sense of pride as they see their mentee thrive.

So how does this happen?

This is a major element in community engagement and leadership development I believe so much in. City leaders should be part of the development of such a mentoring program. Could an existing nonprofit coordinate it? Possibly. It falls within the missions of some. Shouldn’t the schools be doing this? Sure. They know the needs but often don’t have the connections in the community. Nevermind the lengthy list of other things teachers are responsible for today. All three of these groups are necessary to the success of a program.

If the city had a twenty-first century communication strategy, they could raise awareness of the need for mentors and fill the mentor pipeline. With a little coaching, these mentors would be ready and able to assist students as needed. And the relationship needn’t be time-consuming. Some students need a simple connection or a few meetings while others need an ongoing relationship. It is definately an idea whose time has come.

If we don’t, who will?

One of the questions I often ask my coaching clients who are considering doing something that will change their life and perhaps change someone else’s is: If you don’t, who will? One person who makes a difference in one student can positively impact a generation. The quality of our community is at stake. If not you, who? If not now, when?

 

 

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