‘Love in Action’ Gives Dropouts Faith in Their Future

By Peter Bronson

CINCINNATI — How much is a second chance worth?

For students at local high school in Cincinnati, it’s the difference between desperation and success. Since 2005, the charter school in Cincinnati and has been giving second chances to kids who have dropped out of school because of legal trouble, truancy, fighting and academic failure. And now a new mentoring program is showing dramatic results.

School counselors have seen remarkable turnarounds for students who are participating in a mentoring partnership with Healthy Visions and Sweeten Life Systems, funded by the Ohio Department of Education.

  • Jayla would shut down and stomp out when frustrated. Now she has done a 180-degree turn, thanks to mentoring with volunteer Jessica Shely. “Her whole attitude has changed and now she is willing to talk about situations. At the College Fair, she was one of the last to leave and she filled out two applications,” said a counselor. “She particularly likes to brag about her mentor.”
  • DeShawn kept his head down, avoided eye contact and would not speak to anyone at the school. Now he is smiling, looking teachers and students in the eye and talking. This can be attributed to the dedication and modeling of mentor Jerry Howard.
  • Brandon earned honors, was recognized as Student of the Month, made first honors, and the basketball team, thanks to the encouragement he received. Dohn staffers noticed how excited he was when his mentor, Gerry Dacey, came to his basketball game.

School officials say their classroom environment has improved. Weekly small group mentoring sessions have made students feel more comfortable and secure. “They are speaking freely and respectfully, listening to each other. It’s a huge accomplishment,” school staffers agreed.

The program started with four, three-hour training sessions for more than 30 mentors ranging in age from 21 to 75, who volunteered to go into the school and mentor a student for an hour twice each month. While some students dropped out of the school, none quit the mentoring program. Other students were suspended for weeks, and some failed to show for their sessions, leaving some mentors feeling discouraged.

Then Carole Adlard of Healthy Visions asked for feedback from the teachers and school leaders. The results re-energized the mentors the same way they have lifted the students.

It was especially surprising to Dr. Gary Sweeten, president of Sweeten Life Systems, because the program fit none of the usual requirements for successful mentoring he had learned from years of successfully studying, applying and writing about counseling and group dynamics.

“Our students were high school kids with bad records. They were ‘too old’ to change from such a program. Several missed mentoring sessions due to suspension or truancy. We had no time with their families,” he said. “But despite the challenges, the mentors and Healthy Visions team did a fantastic job. The most legitimate and meaningful assessments we will ever get are from the people on the frontlines, such as teachers, administrators, counselors and, of course, the students.”

The school staff summarized the evaluation in a letter to the volunteer mentors: “We are so grateful for your kindness and efforts. You showed you cared and that the students are important.”

For most of those students, going back to the community high school for a diploma was one of the hardest things they have ever done. Facing a lifetime of futility and closed doors as dropouts, they took a second chance to finish high school and even go on to college. In many cases, the concern and encouragement from their mentors was the first time anyone gave them encouragement and support.

Sweeten called it “compassionate tenacity for some kids who have never seen love in action before.”

For the students, it made the difference between failure and faith in their future.

 

Student names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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