Rock Elementary mentors say they get as good as they giveEducators, child psychologists and developmental experts all seem to agree — the more positive adult relationships children have, the more likely they are to succeed.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
Educators, child psychologists and developmental experts all seem to agree — the more positive adult relationships children have, the more likely they are to succeed. That’s the premise behind the Stand-by-Me mentorship program at Rock Elementary School and it appears to have been working for more than a decade.
Now in its 12th year, when the program began there were only a few upper grade students, teachers and adult mentors involved. Today, there are some 55 mentors seeing 57 students from all grades on a weekly basis. Volunteer Stand-by-Me coordinator Laurel Van Someren says many of the mentors have been part of the program for years. “Pretty much once they’ve done it — they’re hooked.”
Darlene Regelin feels at home when she comes to Rock to see fourth-grader Jacob Corbisier. She moved to Hudson when she was in the second grade and attended there when it was the new school in town. Four years ago while employed at WESTconsin Credit Union, she heard about the program and volunteered. She was laid off from her job but has continued to be a mentor. Now working part-time at EcoWater, this is the fifth student she has mentored.
Regelin said mentoring is a mixed bag. “It’s about a lot of things — academics, self-esteem, relationships. It is all kind of tied up together. That, and some special attention, one-on-one.”
Jake, as he likes to be called, lights up when he enters the classroom to see Regelin waiting. When asked about their relationship, his answer is quick and simple. “I like having her around. Having a mentor is a good idea and she makes it fun. I like it when we play games.”
Regelin says she likes being “around kids – they keep you young.” She has worked on math with Jake this year and likes learning how it is done now versus the way she learned to do it.
“I like getting the chance to see things from their point of view. Obviously they see things differently than adults and I like hearing about that. My dad used to say that it is a sad day when you don’t learn something new and I can always count on hearing something new from Jake and his friends. Besides, I think it is better to help kids now, rather than later when they get in trouble. “
In addition to help with schoolwork, Regelin has been working with Jake to become less introverted. “He was kind of shy and we wanted him to open up a little. He’s a great kid but I don’t think his classmates knew it.” Regelin encouraged Jake to invite a friend to their lunch meetings. It took some coaxing at first but he now initiates the invitations himself and sometimes has more than one classmate join in the fun.
One such friend, Jared Viner-LaBelle, says Jake is one of his best friends and says that the time with Regelin is “a good way for us to get along.” Regelin says she likes listening to the boys’ conversation and watching them interact.
Regelin believes most kids could use a mentor, the added attention of a caring adult aimed just at them. “Parents work or there is just one of them and there are other kids at home. Sometimes things change in home – a new baby or a lot of years between siblings. Having a mentor doesn’t mean parents are doing anything wrong. It’s just something extra that kids I’ve mentored seem to appreciate. I know it is one of the best hours of my week. Where else can you get such payback?”
Jorrin and Jim
Jorrin Vazquez is in fifth grade at Rock Elementary and he says the time he gets to spend with his mentor, Jim Wookey, goes too fast.
“He’s a great mentor. He has a nice personality and he’s fun, especially when we play games. I like Wednesdays because that’s the day he usually comes,” said Jorrin.
The feeling is mutual for Wookey, who became familiar with Stand-by-Me as an employee of WESTconsin Credit several years ago and has been a mentor ever since. His daughter used to attend Rock before River Crest opened. He inquired about being a mentor at her new school but found out the program only exists at Rock and he came back to mentor there again.
In addition to playing games and working on school projects, Wookey says a big part of the relationship is about trust. “We just spend time talking with each other. He likes to tell me about what’s going on with him and I like hearing about that.”
Jorrin says, “I can share stuff with him and talk about things I’m thinking. That’s big to me.”
Wookey rarely misses a weekly lunch and makes it up when he does. He calls his time spent as a mentor one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to make a difference. And he agrees with Regelin, that he gets more out of the experience than he thinks Jorrin does.
Wookey has occasionally had the experience of running into a student he used to mentor around town and it is nice to make the connection again. “They come over and ask if you remember them. Of course you do but it is great to know they do too.”
Stand-by-Me is a completely voluntary program. Along with the mentor’s time, teachers, like program founder Ann Siats and Van Someren, also donate their time to make the program work.
Said Siats, “This is a very progressive school district, always focusing on the best practices. But children have an increased need for attention from a single adult for a variety of reasons. It is not just about ‘at risk’ kids. Truly, a mentor is a friend and we could all use another friend.”
January is National Mentoring Month and Siats and the rest of the Rock staff are grateful for the support they have received from local organizations and businesses like WESTconsin and the commitment of mentors like Wookey and Regelin.
Said Siats, “They don’t ever have to wonder if they made a difference with these kids. They have and it will continue to make a difference for them for the rest of their lives.”
For more information about how to get involved in Stand-by-Me, contact Laurel Van Someren at Rock Elementary School at (715) 377-3820.