- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Ricardo Springs of Lexington Park said it was a little challenging at first.
As a first-year mentor with the St. Mary’s County public school’s FLOW (Future Leaders of the World) Mentoring program last year, Springs was assigned to a fourth-grade boy at Lexington Park Elementary School.
The 66-year-old, retired project manager met the boy at the beginning of the school year. The initial challenge was to get the student to talk to him. He was very quiet, Springs said.
“He would talk, but it took a lot of coaxing,” Springs said.
Then Springs discovered that they shared an interest in football — his student was a Baltimore Ravens fan and Springs roots for the Washington Redskins. Talk about the Beltway rivalry helped break the ice. In addition, as Springs asked the student about his schoolwork, he learned that he was good at math, which is also one of Springs’ strengths.
“He’s gifted with numbers,” Springs said. “He can crunch numbers in his head.”
By the end of the school year, after meeting with his student along with a group of other mentors and students and a site supervisor for an hour and a half once a week after school, Springs said they had a good relationship. “It was very rewarding to see him grow and mature in that one year,” Springs said.
Sarah Tyson, FLOW Mentoring program manager for St. Mary’s County public schools, is hoping to find more people like Springs — people who have some time to volunteer and are willing to help a third-, fourth- or fifth-grade student succeed.
“FLOW Mentoring is looking for people who want to make a difference in the life of a child,” Tyson wrote in an email. “We are looking for caring, supportive and responsible members of the community to serve as volunteer mentors to elementary aged children.”
Some form of the FLOW Mentoring program is in all three levels of schools in St. Mary’s. But it is only at the elementary school level that community volunteers are needed. School staff serve as the mentors at the middle and high school levels.
Students are referred to the program by their parents, teachers or the school principal. “Our students are kids that could just use some extra support,” Tyson said.
The number of students who can participate depends on the number of community volunteers willing to help. Tyson noted that academic help can be part of the relationship, but said that the program is not a tutoring service. It’s about things like setting goals, getting along with others, making good choices.
Tyson said Wednesday she could use 25 additional “solid, dedicated” volunteers for this coming school year. Last year, 116 community members served as mentors.
“It’s very rewarding,” Tyson said. During the course of the year, participants get to know the other mentors and mentees at their school. “Our sites become [like] little FLOW families,” she said. “Our mentors look forward to being there every week. Our kids look forward to being there.”
Bob Owen, 67, of Great Mills will be a volunteer with the program George Washington Carver Elementary School this year for the fifth year in a row. Retired from the Navy and from a government contracting job, he said FLOW Mentoring is a good fit for retirees looking for volunteer work. “You really have to be dedicated to being there once a week,” Owen said.
His interest in the program stemmed from his involvement with Kiwanis, which also focuses on children’s programs. Owen said he believes that it is critical to catch a child early on, like third grade, to get them pointed in the right direction.
“I don’t know what the results are going to be,” Owen said. But he said he feels good just sharing “good, solid, core values.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Benjamin Klepper of California was a mentor last year at Carver and plans to volunteer again this year. He said the program worked well with his schedule, since his work ended right when the after-school, weekly meetings were held. He noted said volunteering sets a good example to his son and also looks good on his work evaluations.
He and several other active duty servicemen came to the school dressed in their uniforms, which the students loved, Klepper said.
“It’s a cool thing for them,” Klepper said. “It’s a fun program.”
FLOW Mentoring is a homegrown program, created by Mark Smith, coordinator of special programs for St. Mary’s schools. Years ago, Smith polled principals in the school system about what kind of extra programs they most needed. “The principals said ‘mentoring,’” Tyson said.
So, Smith created FLOW Mentoring, obtained grant funding and the program was introduced to the elementary and middle schools in 2008. It was added to the three high schools in 2010. Now, other schools systems are contacting St. Mary’s County schools about the model, Tyson said.
Tyson said her office has tracked the students who have participated. Those students improve academically, have better attendance and get along better with their peers. “We see really positive results,” Tyson said.
When people apply to become mentors in the elementary school program, Tyson checks references and conducts a phone interview. Future mentors then meet for training with Tyson, and the mentor is matched with a student who has similar interests and compatible personalities.
“It’s a way to help them grow; mature a little bit, if you will,” Springs said of what the program is intended to do for the children.
FLOW Mentoring will hold an informational meeting on Aug. 7 and 14 from noon to 1 p.m. in the FLOW Mentoring office at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center in Leonardtown. For more information, see www.smcps.org/mentor or contact Sarah Tyson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-475-0242, ext. 28128.