Ann Arbor, U-M mentoring partnership enters 17th year

Program affects dozens of students over the years

From AAPSNews Service

The idea is basic: Offer one-on-one help for students who need an extra nudge, a bit of attention or assistance with a family or life crisis. The help can be offered at any point in a child’s life, depending on individual need.

This simple concept grew into a class in The University of Michigan Department of Psychology and has helped hundreds of students in The Ann Arbor Public Schools over many years. The Michigan Mentorship Program is entering its 17th year this fall and, although it is smaller and serves fewer schools today than it once did, the program remains popular and still offers a helping hand to Ann Arbor students.

“Kids struggle at all ages,” explained Ellen Quart, an Eberwhite Elementary School teacher consultant and U-M Psychology professor who started the program in the mid-1990s. “They can have a family trauma, trouble making friends, and some have severe problems.”

She said whether students have a learning disability or are just going through a difficult time due to stress in the family, mentors offer emotional, cognitive, and personal support.

Quart is the director of the Michigan Mentorship Program and teaches the corresponding university course in the Department of Psychology.

Quart said the idea first blossomed here after reviewing an experimental, intervention mentorship program in the Detroit Public Schools. Quart and Scott Paris, formerly of the U-M Psychology Department, decided to try a pilot in Ann Arbor and began it with eight U-M students at Pioneer High School in 1994 where they spent eight hours per week mentoring helping students.

From there, the program took off. “Suddenly, I had hundreds of students who wanted the course,” Quart said. “And (Ann Arbor) students experienced gains in attendance, appropriate school behavior and grades.”

To enroll in Psychology 305, students must be juniors or seniors in good standing and can be psychology majors, but it is not required. They must, however, have taken some psychology as a prerequisite, Quart said. Students first go through orientation and about such things as family privacy and confidentiality issues, student allergies, dos and don’ts of how to interact in the classroom and how to work one-on-one with students. Then, the U-M students are supported with a weekly seminar that focuses on issues of child development and needs, stress, coping, learned helplessness and goal setting.

The class is a graded course and U-M students are expected to be good role models, attend regularly and on time, do required readings and write a term paper at the end. It is a one-semester course, but Quart said some students elect to come back for an independent study to stay with their mentee longer. U-M students often go on to pursue degrees in medicine, psychology, social work and education.

The college students begin in an AAPS classroom assisting the teacher and working with all of the students. From there, the mentor and teacher can best determine who might benefit from having the mentor’s help. Some of the ways they assist might include social and personal skills, helping with homework, offering friendship and discussing careers.

“These mentors are dedicated to the kids,” said Quart. “They want to make a difference – they want to help.”

Ann Arbor students can apply independently to have a mentor or be recommended through a counselor, teacher or school administrator. The program works with students of all socio-economic backgrounds and ages. “The only commonality is that they have to want a mentor,” she said. And teachers, administrators, school psychologists and socials workers in the district determine who might best be served.

Quart credits caring and dedicated U-M students as well as individual building coordinators in Ann Arbor for the program’s success.

“I am very proud of this program and it truly has become an essential in helping our kids be successful in school,” says Pam Kirchen, a teacher consultant at Community High School

The building coordinators manage the mentoring schedules and are“ ”a very important part of the equation,” Quart said. “They are a tremendous resource for the mentors and help them understand how to help.” AAPS staff members Bob Bower and Pam Kirchen have been building coordinators for all 16 years of the program.

Kirchen, a teacher consultant at Community High School, calls the mentors “invested and enthusiastic” and said they work closely with Ann Arbor teachers to address students concerns.

“I am very proud of this program and it truly has become an essential in helping our kids be successful in school,” Kirchen said. “It … serves many students who need this kind of support, and is a wonderful example of how U-M and AAPS can work together in education.”

Kirchen said the mentors provide an avenue for teens to practice positive school skills such as planning, organizing, communication, managing stress in a safe and enjoyable way.  “We love the mentors. They are actually a wonderful support to us in our support of the student.”

Quart said that a mentoring relationship is different than that of child to teacher or child to parent.  It is based on shared experiences, empathy, trust and positive encouragement. The focus of the program is on building a relationship with students in a way that is understanding and not judgmental, she added.

The Michigan Mentorship Program was larger at one time, serving 150 students in nine Ann Arbor schools with about 50 mentors at its peak. Today, the program is conducted at Mitchell and Angell elementary schools, Scarlett Middle School and Community High School with 20 U-M mentors. Each mentor works with one or two Ann Arbor students.

Despite a now-smaller program, Quart said it remains popular. “I don’t even advertise it,” she said. “And I stop accepting applications at between 70 and 100 (students.)”

Others interested in the program have tapped Quart’s experience. U-M Dearborn officials have used her expertise to set up a similar program there with charter schools in the Dearborn area and the state of Florida has consulted with her on a mentor program to help students who have been incarcerated.

Quart is of the belief that all of us can use a helping hand at some point. “Everyone should have a mentor in his or her life – someone to be their anchor,” she said, noting that everyone should have a special person who is not there to judge, but be supportive and interested in them.

For more information about the Michigan Partnership Program program:

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