Mentoring–it works in Reno
Leann Williams has two little brothers that annoy her and a mother she says sometimes acts younger than she does.
That may sound normal to some people, but the 14-year-old Traner Middle School student needed an outlet for some of her frustrations.
So last September, Leann asked her counselor about the Washoe County School District’s mentoring program.
“I just needed someone else to talk to,” Williams said. “Someone fun like me.”
Media Wright, coordinator for the Washoe County’s mentoring program, found a mentor for Leann, and also stepped up to become an influence in Leann’s life.
Mentoring has made a huge difference in her life, Leann said. Her grades are better, she gets more school work done (almost all As, she said) and she gets along better with her mother.
“When at-risk children have a caring adult in their life, they’re less likely to engage in risky behavior,” Wright said. “They’re more likely to go to school, and enjoy the work. They’re more likely to set goals and follow them.”
“Today you might not see the results, but 10 years down the road, you’ll find out they were listening.”
Wright said she’s had phone calls from Carson City residents asking for mentoring help for their children.
“I get calls from parents in Carson City, but we can’t serve them,” Wright said. “It’s one thing if you can’t serve them but can refer them to another program. But when there’s no program it’s kind of hard.
“You want to say that Carson City is a great place to raise kids. What you also want to admit is that yes, we have problems. But we have solutions, too.”
Debbie Feemster, principal of Traner Middle School, said mentoring is a saving grace for many teachers. About 50 of her 530 students have mentors.
“If only I had 50 more,” Feemster said. “There are never enough mentors, but for 50 we’re thankful. That’s 50 students that have someone who listen. Mentors make a kid feel very special. Sometimes kids hold their anger and all their problems for their mentor to hear because they know they’re going to get undivided attention.”
Feemster sees the first-hand effects of mentors on a daily basis. She describes Traner as a school in an older section of Reno with about 60 percent of the children in a single parent family. Friday, one of her students was having a bad day. The girl’s mentor came immediately and spent over an hour talking to her.
“It gave me great peace of mind as a principal to know her needs were met,” Feemster said. “(The student) left smiling today, and this morning, she was gloomy.
“It gives the kids something to look forward to. Every kid wants someone to feel a partnership with. Someone who says whatever concerns you have, whenever you have a problem call me. Then students have someone they can rely on no matter what.”
Leann wants to go to college and become a lawyer or maybe a mortician, she hasn’t decided. But Wright has convinced her she has a “college head” and Leann says her some of her friends want mentors, too.
“It would be a great opportunity for adults and kids to learn things from each other,” she said. “It’s a good thing and it makes everybody happy.”