Care, Concern and Consistency Get Youth Back on Track
PO Box 9745
Wyoming, Michigan 49509
One Wyoming 1 on 1 uses the power of relationships to keep kids in school and on track. Adult mentors are matched with at-risk kids; early results show great promise.
This time last year, seventh grader Brandon Palazzola was getting into fights with other students at Kelloggsville Middle School and failing his classes. Not so this year, thanks to local business owner David Tosh and the One Wyoming 1 on 1 program
“He’s helped me with my temper a lot,” says Palazzola. “Last year I got into a ton of fights and all that and since he’s been here, we’ve been talking more about it, and I haven’t even gotten in trouble once.”
Tosh, a local business owner, is one of about 500 mentors who signed up with the One Wyoming 1 on 1, which pairs K-12 young people with adult mentors in Wyoming, a city where 24 percent of the households are headed by a single-parent.
Jack Ponstine is the coordinator of Wyoming 1 on 1 and spearheaded the initiative in collaboration with area businesses, parents, churches, schools, and community leaders.
"I think that is one of the biggest things for these students: just to have a person that wants to talk with them and sit down with them with no distractions and no other requirements of chores or anything," Kuperus says.
“The four superintendents at the school districts declared it the most important need they had for the students in their schools,” Ponstine says. “That’s really what ignited the whole movement. Because a lot of the kids don’t have a healthy role model to follow, or a healthy situation at home, or they’re struggling with their school work and there is really only so much the teachers can do in a classroom of 20 or 30 kids.”
When the program first kicked off last May, Ponstine and other initiative leaders set a goal to have 10 percent of the students throughout the four Wyoming area districts – Wyoming Public Schools, Godfrey-Lee, Godwin Heights and Kelloggsville – paired individually with a mentor by October 2013.
To date, Wyoming 1 on 1 only has a little over 500 of the 1,100 mentors required to complete that 10 percent goal, but Ponstine says not meeting the goal is a good thing, giving the program time to build a foundation.
When the program first started, there were less than 70 members, so Wyoming 1 on 1 has seen a lot of growth in its first year. He says because of that slow but steady growth, they have been able to streamline the application process to move more quickly through background checks, training, and pairing a mentor with a mentee. Better organization, he says, will make achieving the 10 percent goal more doable.
Laura Kuperus is the program coordinator for Wyoming 1 on 1 at Kelloggsville Middle School, where she is also the guidance counselor. With 15 pairs of mentors and mentees that meet in her building each week, she has seen the kind of transformation the mentorships can make firsthand for kids who don’t have too much one-on-one attention at home because of parental stressors and demands.
“I think that is one of the biggest things for these students: just to have a person that wants to talk with them and sit down with them with no distractions and no other requirements of chores or anything,” Kuperus says. “That’s huge for them.”
Tosh not only keeps Palazzola accountable for his grades and his behavior, but also lets him know that any subject is up for discussion without any threat of judgment.
As for Palazzola and Tosh, Kuperus says she has seen a definitive change in the student’s motivation to be in school and keep his attendance up.
“He’s setting more goals for himself with his grades and through his attendance, and his behavior has improved a lot over the last year,” she says. “I think the consistency of knowing he’s going to meet with Dave again and Dave’s going to ask him what he’s doing helps.”
Tosh not only keeps Palazzola accountable for his grades and his behavior, but also lets him know that any subject is up for discussion without any threat of judgment. He says he has worked with teens before through other programs and knows the importance of unconditional support.
Palazzola came into the program a little bit wary, saying he thought Tosh “was going to be mean because he is old,” but has since found something deeper and more substantial in the conversations with his mentor.
“Now that I’ve gotten to know him, he’s awesome,” he says.
And though Tosh is glad he has become something more awesome in Palazzola’s eyes, he says more than anything else, he wants his mentee to walk away from their exchanges with more confidence, knowing he can do in life “whatever he puts his heart, mind and soul to.”
Palazzola is already rising to that challenge.
“It’s great when he sends me a screen shot of his grades,” Tosh says. “He’s talking differently now. Instead of ‘if I pass this class’ it’s ‘when I pass all these classes.’”
“I think each student needs someone encouraging him or her – just telling them they can do it,” he says. “Because I know that their peers are quite often probably their worst enemies in beating them down and just kind of picking on them, so it’s important to let them know they’re worth it and they can do it.”