Middle school can be a tough time for kids, but having an adult mentor can have a big influence in making things easier. The “Be a Middle School Mentor” program run by the United Way is in 21 middle schools in Allegheny County. In fact, the program just expanded to the Mon Valley this school year, with new programs in Clairton, McKeesport and Woodland Hills, thanks to a 3-year grant from KeyBank.
One school that’s had a successful mentoring program for some time is Allegheny Traditional Academy on the Northside. There, Cindy Mastroianni started mentoring Ayanna Hall when she began sixth grade and now she’s in eighth. The two often talk about Hall’s future. She says, “I want to be an OB/GYN doctor because I like babies, and I want to see them come into the world.”
Mastroianni says Hall’s vision of her future has changed over their time together. “I really hear her talking a lot more about the future,” Mastroianni says. “When we first started, she wasn’t sure she would go to college, and now there’s no doubt.”
Mastroianni works at Highmark, which provides many mentors through their volunteering program. She comes to the school on the North Side from her office downtown, every Tuesday for 45 minutes to meet with Hall. Mastroianni feels middle school is a critical time for a mentor because of the academic, social and physical changes that happen during those years. “The peer pressure, bullying, self-esteem, going through changes into adulthood,” she recalls from her own middle school days and her own children’s experiences. “I just remember it being a really difficult time,” she adds.
Hall says meeting with Mastroianni has helped her decide which high school to attend, how to achieve her career goals and how to handle personal issues as well. “She’s helped me with like issues at home and stuff and taught me to get through it. (She) helps me work through problems,” Hall says. Mastroianni and Hall have such a great mentoring relationship, they’re working on ways to continue that into high school. Mastroianni says she gets more out of it than her Hall does and looks forward to coming every week.
There are more than 345 mentors paired with students at 21 schools all around our region, but there are 58 students who still need a mentor this year. The United Way is hoping that more adults will volunteer their time.
Mentors get one 3-hour training. Then, they commit to a 45 minute to one-hour meeting with their mentee once a week during the school year, either at lunchtime or after school. The United Way wants middle school mentors to stay with the same child all three years for consistency, if possible. At each session, mentors get worksheets that facilitate the conversation.
Damon Bethea runs the mentoring project for the United Way and says a recent study done by the University of Pittsburgh found the benefits of mentoring are measurable. “Ninety-five percent of the parents said they had seen a change in the behavior of (the) student in regards to desire to go to school, interest in academic studies, even small things like being more kind to siblings,” Bethea says.
For more information on how to be a mentor, click here.