Jamie Wilson: Mentor Denton a boon

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The school year is in full swing, and I continue to be impressed with the level of engagement our community devotes to the educational success for each of our 26,356 students.

A recent review of the education literature confirms that the involvement of family and community members has a significant impact on student achievement (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). In addition, our Denton community undoubtedly recognizes the value of a quality school system, where all of our students have the resources to reach their fullest potential.

Recent actions among Denton ISD stakeholders reinforce the commitment placed on education in our community. We are fortunate to be home to two universities, a community college, many nonprofits, businesses and faith-based organizations that demonstrate this commitment on a daily basis.

University of North Texas President Lane Rollins also recognized the importance of community engagement, when he and his staff established the UNT Engagement Advisory Committee. The work of this group is already evident. Initially, our Denton students will reap the benefits; ultimately the economic prowess of a well-educated population will be of benefit to all.

The movement taking place within our district that is engaging all of our educational community — one student at a time — is known as Mentor Denton (www.mentordenton.org). This initiative is a partnership between Denton ISD and several major stakeholders.

The initial purpose is to provide mentors to work one-on-one with students, who are considered “at-risk.” Mentors volunteer 30 to 60 minutes a week to work with an individual student as a positive role model. In the future, plans are to expand the program to assist students in preparing for life after high school in the form of apprenticeships or internships.

The first phase of Mentor Denton started in August by targeting 1,000 at-risk students in the district and matching them with volunteer mentors. The response has been overwhelming, in part, because of the stakeholders who are involved, including the city of Denton, Communities In Schools of North Texas, Denton Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Denton 2013, Denton school district, North Central Texas College; Texas Woman’s University; United Way of Denton County; University of North Texas and WeDentonDoIt.

The UNT’s Center for Leadership and Service had committed to sign up 500 university students, faculty and staff volunteers this school year. Recently, Mentor Denton had 980 UNT applicants, along with 200 more from TWU, NCTC and the community. There are 655 mentors who have been already been trained by CISNT with many already working with students.

What a great example hundreds of college students are setting by volunteering to mentor our students! College students have been resilient in sharing their expertise for many decades. By being the first to come forward with this new mentoring initiative, they are setting a strong example of the importance of engaging young people in the community to help students achieve. The involvement of college students also serves as a beacon of hope and determination for our DISD students to emulate.

Mentor Denton recognizes that mentoring impacts lives. If a volunteer mentor spends one hour a week with an at-risk child, he or she is playing an important role in helping to get that child on the path to success, whether they simply lend an ear, play a game or assist with difficult math concepts.

The long-term goal for Mentor Denton is to match 10,000 mentors with at-risk school children in our Denton public schools. This phenomenal goal will strengthen the educational experience for thousands of our students.

It will take a huge commitment from our community, but we know it can happen because our residents are supportive and dedicated to the students of our district. We want to commend Rawlins for this initiative.

Those who want to volunteer can sign up through www.mentordenton.org. This is community engagement at its finest, and we need the continued support of our community to continue reaching new heights. A mentor who spends one hour a week with an at-risk child plays an important role in helping that student to succeed. The future is not something you enter, it is something we create.

DR. JAMIE WILSON is superintendent of the Denton school district.

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