With schools across the commonwealth fully back into the swing of things, this is a perfect opportunity to turn our attention to the education system and think of what we can be doing to strengthen Massachusetts schools and remain a leader in education.
While statewide, students here in Massachusetts out-perform their peers, but there is a still a great deal of work that needs to be done to ensure that all the youth across the commonwealth have the support they need to excel in school. Structured, quality mentoring programs are an important step as they complement classroom work by providing additional emotional and educational support.
Mentoring programs help school systems achieve many of their strategic priorities. Attendance rates increase when students are more engaged in school. Mentoring gives students a reason to go to school. Mentoring has shown to improve literacy. Ability to read at grade level is a key indicator of future success. By helping ensure that students are proficient in reading, mentorships decrease the likelihood that students will drop out. This in turn increases the graduation rate.
Mentoring improves student confidence, which has a direct effect on quality of class work and academic performance. Mentoring even extends beyond graduation into post-high school options. Many of these children do not have parents or other figures in their life who can speak to them knowledgably about possible future paths.
There are many types of programs currently offered in Massachusetts. Matches can meet in school or at community centers or they can participate in community activities. They can meet during the school day, afterwards, or on weekends. Programs also vary in their focus to serve certain needs. Some emphasize academics, while others focus solely on social and emotional support.
These are great programs; the problem is that they are simply not able to serve enough children. A great example of a mentoring program that supports the Berkshires is the Railroad Street Youth Project in Great Barrington.
While Railroad Street is doing all they can, there are still currently more than 2,800 youths waiting for mentors across the commonwealth. In the Fourth Berkshire District, there are 306 children ages 5-17 who are living in single-parent households in poverty, and currently only 11 are being served by a mentoring program. This is only 3.6 percent of need being met.
You can help by supporting a mentoring organization in your area. To find a mentoring opportunity near you, search for mentoring opportunities on the Mass Mentoring Partnership website at www.massmentors.org or by calling 413-262-1227.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, represents the 4th Berkshire District and sits on the Joint Committee on Higher Education. He was honored in February by the Massachusetts Mentoring Partnership for his support of mentoring programs.
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