EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 3, 2013

Column: Mentors lead students to better lives

Barry Finegold and Frank Moran
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — It is no secret that Massachusetts is a national leader in education. One of the best kept secrets, however, is an important part of how we maintain our status -- mentors.

Once again this year, test scores have demonstrated that students in Massachusetts are out-performing their peers. Yet, there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure that all kids across the commonwealth excel in the classroom, and quality mentoring programs are an integral part of achieving that goal.

Mentors have the power to transform lives and strengthen communities. As schools work to improve learning and meet the needs of all students, structured quality mentoring programs complement work in the classroom by providing targeted social and emotional support within the context of the learning environment.

Mentors keep students engaged in school and work with them to improve their overall academic performance. With mentors in the mix, students are guided down a path that discourages dropping out and encourages a future that includes college or other post-secondary institutions.

While students of all kinds typically benefit from mentoring relationships, mentors make a concerted effort to help students who need it the most. According to Mass Mentoring Counts, a statewide survey of mentoring programs in Massachusetts, 78 percent of programs surveyed serve a substantial number of youth who are at academic risk. These students many times lack a role model in their lives who can speak to the importance of succeeding in school or what post-secondary school options exist. This is something mentors can provide for their matches.

In Lawrence, where the school district has begun its climb from a 2011 Level 5 designation, students are in desperate need of mentors.

Unfortunately, only 485 kids are currently in mentoring relationships, which equates to just 9.8 percent of the city’s mentoring needs being met. In fact, there are approximately 5,000 students ages 5 to 17 who are living in single-parent homes in poverty that could potentially benefit from a mentoring relationship.

Programs such as Lawrence Community Works, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Lowell, Community Teamwork, and Foster Kids of the Merrimack Valley all provide students with mentors in the Greater Lawrence area to increase their odds of academic success. While these organizations are doing a fantastic job, they are in need of more mentors.

You can help by becoming a mentor and serving in any number of ways. Mentors can meet their students in schools, at community centers or just spend time doing activities in the community together. They can meet during the school day, after-school on weekdays or during the weekend.

We encourage you to become a mentor in or around your community and help students in need. To find a mentoring opportunity near you, please check the Mass Mentoring Partnership website today at www.massmentors.org.

Barry Finegold is the state senator for the Second Essex and Middlesex District, and Frank Moran is the state representative for the 17th Essex District.