U-46 seeks faith community mentors for 'at-risk' students

 
 
Updated 1/21/2015 10:39 PM
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  • Annette Forster, Illinois director for KIDS HOPE USA, and Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders urge local church leaders Wednesday to mentor at-risk students. More than a dozen area churches already have committed to seeking and providing volunteer mentors. Eight more signed up Wednesday.

      Annette Forster, Illinois director for KIDS HOPE USA, and Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders urge local church leaders Wednesday to mentor at-risk students. More than a dozen area churches already have committed to seeking and providing volunteer mentors. Eight more signed up Wednesday. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders made a plea to local church leaders Wednesday, asking them to get more involved in the lives of "at-risk" youth.

Sanders and KIDS HOPE USA, a national mentoring organization, encouraged churches to partner with area schools to mentor at-risk youth.

"Kids need to be partnered with mentors who challenge their thinking, be good sounding boards, and help them be accountable for their own actions," Sanders said.

More than a dozen area churches have been providing volunteer mentors through KIDS HOPE USA at 11 U-46 elementary schools and two middle schools in Bartlett, Hanover Park and Elgin for the past six years.

"There's an average of eight mentors per school," said Annette Forster, Illinois director for KIDS HOPE USA. "We want to get that number up. The needs are huge. We are trying to get at least 10 to 20 members in each of the (U-46) schools."

Eight more local churches -- mostly from Elgin and one from Bartlett -- signed up Wednesday to provide mentors. A volunteer director for each church will be trained April 26-27, and new mentors will begin working with students this fall. U-46 conducts background checks on all volunteers and KIDS HOPE USA provides training on one-on-one mentoring. The goal is to pair a church with an elementary or middle school in the community, and match one mentor per child for the school year. Mentors meet with their charges once a week for an hour.

"The idea is to meet the social, emotional needs of the kids so they are able to learn," Forster said. "These are the kids who come from unstable environments ... that aren't doing well in school."

Students are identified by the school administration as being at-risk because of behavioral problems, issues with attendance and poor academic performance.

KIDS HOPE USA works with 43 school districts throughout the state, including ones in Aurora, Downers Grove, Grayslake, Gurnee, Palatine and Schaumburg.

Forster said the group's own evaluation has shown students' grades, attendance and behavior improved with mentoring.

Sanders said there are other ways faith-based groups already are helping with schools, such as doing collections for school supplies benefiting low-income students. He also hopes qualified church counselors can help with such crises as the death of a student or employee.

"It's hard for us to have enough people with social work, counseling background to come in and work with students and staff struggling with the loss," Sanders said.

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