80 mentors sought for at-risk youth program

Effort begins tonight with Stand by Me leadership summit.
Thursday, January 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:16 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

West Boulevard Elementary has the money and coordinators to initiate its new mentoring program, but it still needs 80 volunteers.

Stand by Me is an initiative to mentor at-risk students at the Columbia school district’s first model school. West Boulevard is looking to assist minority and low-income students improve academic and social achievement, said Zona Sharp-Burk, one of the program’s coordinators.

The program is funded by a three-year, $525,000 federal grant. The money will be used to pay the salary of the coordinators, buy supplies and acquire an outside evaluation from MU.

Today, West Boulevard Elementary is scheduled to host the Stand By Me Leadership Summit to generate ideas from invited local business and civic leaders on how to get the most out of adult-student mentoring. The summit is 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the gymnasium. Speakers will include Mayor Darwin Hindman and Police Chief Randy Boehm.

“I feel the mentoring is a vital piece that connects both the academic as well as the social (and) emotional well-being of our students,” said Vickie Robb, West Boulevard’s principal. Stand By Me is coordinated by Sharp-Burk and her husband, Jeff Burk. The couple will each work 25 hours a week for a combined salary of about $40,000.

The program is geared to help students reinforce self-confidence and resiliency through weekly meetings with an adult mentor. West Elementary is looking for 80 volunteers by February and an additional 50 to 60 volunteers by next year to establish a relationship with fourth- and fifth-grade students, meeting once a week.

Stand By Me is different from other mentoring programs in that an outside entity evaluates its results, making sure it is promoting positive changes that hopefully will lead to the students’ academic success, Robb said.

According to Sharp-Burk, research shows that long-term relationships with mentors help contribute to students’ progress in and out of school.

“We are working on social skills such as respect, trust and hope in the future,” Sharp-Burk said.

The Burks are no stranger to mentoring. Jeff was a principal in the Minneapolis public school system, and Zona was the executive director of the Center for Educational Performance Excellence and the Minnesota Academic Excellence Foundation.

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