Students in Grand County have a wide variety of extracurricular programs and resources available to them, more so than many other small rural communities. One of these programs is Grand Area Mentoring, a program for students K-12 that provides one-on-one adult mentorship for students.
Launched in 2005, the program was started with four benchmarks by which to measure student and program performance: academic achievement, social skills, attendance and match duration. The students in the program become involved for a lot of different reasons, but the program has exceeded in all four benchmarks since the inception of the program in 2005.
“Some kids may be struggling academically,” said Dan McNeil, program director at Grand Area Mentoring. “We’ve had kids who just lost a parent, there are kids in the program because maybe they’re looking for new social connections and they have to want to do it … It’s a purely voluntary program, it can’t be mandatory and their parents have to sign off on it, too.”
While there are a multitude of BEACON programs and other extracurricular activities in the Moab community, Grand Area Mentoring offers a unique opportunity for students, but is limited by its number of volunteers.
“We have to prioritize because we always have a waiting list due to the lack of mentors,” McNeil said. “I think that’s just the nature of this business because every mentoring program has a wait list. That’s normal — there just aren’t enough mentors to go around.”
Last year, the mentoring program served 91 students in the school district, and the program continues to grow. Since 2010, the program has grown by 67 percent, McNeil said.
Most students are put on the waiting list until a good mentor match becomes available.
“It took us a while to get into the program, you don’t just automatically get in,” parent Sarah Myers said. “They do a process of making sure the child will fit with a certain mentor, and so it was awesome when the mentor came forward and said he wanted to be paired with my son.”
Data published in the Grand Area Mentoring annual report shows that 92 percent of participants qualified for free or reduced lunches, the federal indicator of poverty. Forty-seven percent of students were female, 53 percent were male and 25 percent were minority students.
Mentors meet with their mentee for one hour each week, usually in the designated mentoring room or outside in the school yard or sports fields.
“I’ve been a mentor for the past four years; I was introduced to the program by a friend who was a mentor,” mentor Xandra Odland said. “During that time I have been a part of three matches. The time that I have spent with my mentees has been different with each mentee because they all have different interests. Sometimes we build paper airplanes, or play games or walk and chat.”
Mentors are expected to commit to a year of mentoring when joining the program, but many mentors stay in the program much longer, and often with the same mentee.
A study by the U.S. Department of Education has shown that long-term mentoring relationships have benefits such as improved grades, improved behavior and higher school attendance. According to the Grand Area Mentoring annual report, 80 percent of matches were sustained for over 12 months.
“We ask our mentors to commit to the relationship for a year. Research has shown that if you prematurely end the relationship before that year is over, it can actually do more harm for the kids than good,” said Megan McGee, coordinator at Grand Area Mentoring. “Many of the pairs will meet for years and years. We’ve had matches that lasted seven years. Just to have that continuity with one adult as they’re going through school, someone that can be an advocate and ally for them during those years is really unique, and I think it’s really important for the kids.”
But students are not the only ones who benefit from the relationship.
“Mentoring gives [students] someone to spend time with and stay out of trouble,” Myers said. “I know it’s helped my son with that … He always wonders if he’s going to be remembered by his mentor during the summer, and his mentor will stop and ask how he is when we see them out and about. We can tell it’s not just a one-way relationship, it’s not just my son benefiting, but his mentor is as well. Some people don’t understand it, you’re giving your time to a kid who could use the extra bit of adult friendship — that’s how we see it. It’s a friendship, not just a one-way relationship where someone is just spending time with the kids at that moment.”
Mentors of all ages, from 18 to 82 years old, participate in, and benefit from, the program.
“It feels like a community,” McGee said, “and I think that having a positive impact on a kid who needs a little bit of extra guidance in their life is really rewarding and a lot of the mentors tell me that they think they’re getting just as much out of it as their kid. That’s always really neat when the kids feel like they’re getting a lot from a relationship and the adults do, too.”
Being a rural community, it can be harder for students and families to access the same supportive structure that is offered in many cities. Grand Area Mentoring helps with this by providing additional support for students who may be struggling, or need a non-familial role model in their life.
“Due to rural nature of Moab, it can be a little harder to access resources for students and families,” Odland said. “Grand Area Mentoring provides additional support for our students, a time for students to engage one-on-one with an adult who is committed to being an additional positive presence in their life and I think that is something every person can benefit from.”
Funded in part by the Grand County School District, much of the remaining funding for Grand Area Mentoring comes from independent donations, community businesses and grants. Between funding and mentors, the program relies heavily on community involvement.
“I do a lot of fundraising because the school district covers about a quarter of our budget and the rest we have to raise through grants and donations and other partnership contributions,” McNeil said. “I also do recruiting, trying to find new volunteers to be mentors which is a challenge, but we have an amazing existing volunteer base, we really do.”
With the proven positive impact on student well-being, mentoring is an important part of the Moab community. Because of the shortage of mentors (78 mentors participated in 2017-18), there are still many students on the waiting list hoping to be matched with a mentor.
People interested in participating in the Grand Area Mentoring program are encouraged to attend a non-committal information session on Oct. 4. To learn more, call McNeil at 435-260-9646 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caring adults make a difference academically and socially
“We can tell it’s not just a one-way relationship, it’s not just my son benefiting, but his mentor is as well. Some people don’t understand it, you’re giving your time to a kid who could use the extra bit of adult friendship — that’s how we see it. It’s a friendship, not just a one-way relationship where someone is just spending time with the kids at that moment.”