Volunteering to do something different, fun and, maybe, meaningful can allow you to truly change lives and bolster our community. Mentors in Toledo Schools (MiTS) volunteers focus on literacy tutoring for kindergarten through third grade students to enhance their classroom performance. The program improves the confidence and outlook of Toledo students— and their mentors.
“I love to see the students have fun learning,” said mentor Debbe Skutch. “Their smiles and the relationships I’m building with them are all reasons why I love this work.” “Mentoring is a huge part of this program,” explained MiTS Program Manager Heather Henson. “In addition to helping build literacy, we’re giving them (the students) a different perspective of what they can accomplish academically.”
Literacy is a critical component and indicator of an individual’s success as an adult, according to The Literacy Foundation. Adult illiteracy directly correlates with higher unemployment, lower-income, lower-quality jobs, low self-esteem, an impact on health and, likely, an intergenerational transmission of illiteracy. It’s vital that students achieve reading competency by third grade.
MiTS has operated since 2014 as a mission of Partners In Education. The program also receives corporate sponsorships, including assistance from the FCA Foundation (Fiat Chrysler), France Stone Foundation, Principle Business Enterprises, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, Toledo Public Schools and the Diocese of Toledo Schools.
The program currently operates in 11 elementary schools: DeVeaux, Arlington, Garfield, Larchmont, Longfellow, McKinley, Old Orchard, Queen of Apostles, Sherman, Whittier and the Escuela SMART Academy. Since the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, MiTS’s 180 mentors have worked with 509 students, providing 3,428 mentoring sessions. “We are making a difference in literacy rates in all the schools that our program reaches,” said Henson.
Whittier School site coordinator Rachel Burton said the students are doing the same work as their classmates (through lesson plans from teachers), but only with extra, one-on-one tutoring that large classrooms can’t provide. “This time with a mentor is good, not only for the classroom work but as a bonding experience,” she said. “We try to pair the same mentor with students whenever possible.”
Benefits for students and mentors
The bonding between mentors and students is evident during special occasions throughout the school year. “At the end of the 2018 school year, we purchased books for our first, second and third-grade students,” said Henson. “Mentors wrote a personal message in the books for ‘their’ students and presented them with the books. It was a wonderful way to celebrate this relationship.”
“I love the unpredictability of my students,” explained mentor Emily Smith, who is in her first year with the program. “I’m using the training I’ve had in education, but I’m growing from helping them to learn and to grow. Every child is different, and it’s wonderful seeing how they each react to what they’re learning.”
Volunteers always welcome
Volunteers need no special background to be mentors. Trained to evaluate each session using a data collection tool that sends updates to the teacher, the mentoring sessions are designed around the Five Pillars of Literacy: phonemic (meaning) awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
“Students are eager to learn, but they also have some time each session where they can talk with their mentor,” said Burton. “The students listen and they’re respectful during these sessions,” said mentor Bill Maxwell. “They truly want to learn.” Mentor Rosemarie Brzuchalski had been helping a relative with reading when she started in the MiTS program. “As I started mentoring, I learned what I had been doing wrong, so it’s helping me with my family as well as with others,” she said. For college student Greg Weiner, and education major, mentoring has been a way to put his training to work. “I didn’t realize the need was so great here,” he said. “I feel so good about the work I’m doing, and what I can do in the future.”
“I have a very good job (aside from the volunteer mentoring),” explains Maxwell. “The job benefits my wallet, but this work – this is for my heart.”
For more information about Mentors in Toledo Schools, visit partnerstoledo.org/mentors-in-toledo-schools. To donate or volunteer with the organization, contact Heather Henson, Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-242-2122.