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 Article of Interest - At-Risk

Mentor program makes impact on at-risk Ohio kids

from Cincinnati Post, January 6, 2003
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A 2-year-old Hamilton County program that provides professional mentors for seriously at-risk students beginning in the first grade already is producing positive results.

Friends of the Children, a long-term mentoring program, currently has 10 professionals paired with 80 students in 25 schools, mostly in the Cincinnati Public Schools District. The mentors are supposed to stay with the children through high school.

Of the children involved in the program, 98 percent have been promoted to the next grade level. In addition, the percentage of students in the program receiving satisfactory grades in math, reading, science and social studies ranges from 70 to 91, depending on the subject.

The impact of the mentoring program is outlined in a report released today by Family Service of the Cincinnati Area, an agency administering Friends of the Children.

Hamilton County has provided funding for the program, modeled after one in Portland, Ore., for the past two years.

The program's goal is to have a positive impact on the most at- risk children through a long-term mentoring relationship. The children in the program are those most at risk for dropping out of school, abusing drugs, becoming involved with the criminal justice system or becoming teen parents.

"We're trying to identify those most vulnerable in the community," said Tracey Knight, director of the program.

"These are children from families with real severe issues. They need early intervention and intensive relationship building, and it must be long term.

"The children we work with have shown dramatic improvement in their school work and have fewer discipline problems. With our continued support, these children will remain on the road to becoming productive citizens in Hamilton County."

The program follows the children regardless of where their families move. Initially started in five Cincinnati schools, the program now serves students in 25 schools, some outside of Hamilton County.

Nearly 70 percent of the students have a learning disability, low achievement or poor attendance in school. About 80 percent have a family history of drug or alcohol abuse, criminal justice involvement, welfare dependency, domestic violence, suspicions of abuse or neglect or come from a single-parent household.

The paid mentors average 4.4 hours per week with each child. Three of those hours typically are spent one-on-one with the child, working on academics, life skills, self-esteem and other issues.

Hamilton County is committed to funding the program, but that money can only be used for students in the county. Family Service has to look for funding to pay for mentors for students who move outside the county, Knight said.

She would like to see the program expanded to Northern Kentucky, if funding could be secured.

Two researchers, Steven Howe and Kristin Valerius, evaluated the Friends program and its effectiveness during the past two years.

"The short-term outcomes we've examined have shown us that Friends has a measurable, positive impact on the children they serve," Howe said.

"While the program is no guarantee that these children will lead productive, responsible lives as adults, we do believe the program is altering the trajectory of these children's lives, and that their chances of future success are improving."

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