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Mentor programs offer guidance to kids amidst activity cuts

By CORY CLAESON
DCN Correspondent

The youth of Duluth may be losing some extracurricular programs in the near future, but a solution could be for a child to obtain a mentor.

In the recent election only one of the three operational levies passed, leaving the school district receiving the same amount of tax dollars as in previous years. The district needed a bump to at least the second levy to have enough money to keep class sizes down and keep extracurricular activities. But now some of those will more than likely be cut.

“The cuts won’t be as dramatic as they would’ve been if the levy didn’t pass,? said school board member Mary Cameron. “Unfortunately it may be the after school activities that may get cut.?

If the child is in search of new activities, one such way may be the Mentor Duluth Program. The community program serves children from age five to 18, which happens to also be the age of students from kindergarten to senior year of high school. Students can essentially be mentored from the first day of school in their lives to the day they are walking away with a diploma.

“The program is designed to improve self-esteem and provide kids with extra support,? said Callie Ronstrom, a YMCA Mentor Duluth program advocate.

Mentors are meant to be a good role model and do activities with the kids. The program primarily works with low-income or single parent households, which may also save money for the families by having their children participate in a low cost mentoring activity instead of the traditionally expensive extracurricular activities.

“We are looking for the mentor to develop a friendship and become a role-model for a child,? said Blair Gagne, a director of the Mentor Duluth Program.

The upcoming closure of Duluth Central High School is separating the students to Denfeld High or East High School. This could lead hillside students to look for activities because of the large number of students looking for more limited spots in extracurricular activities. The lower number of spots is a result of the closure of Central and the loss of extracurriculars there.

“A lot of families are living in the Hillside community,? said Ronstrom about the mentees who are part of the program.

The same principles that extracurricular activities are designed for, keep kids active and out of trouble, are essentially what the mentor program does. It could be considered a replacement or alternative for the possible extracurricular cuts down the road.

A seminal study conducted last year found that overall academic performance improved with students who had been involved with a mentor or a “big brother or big sister? as they are often called. The study also found that the students had fewer infractions in school and skipped class less often.

“The mentors work on homework together and school attendance seems to increase,? said Gagne.

Although people may be taking a recent notice to the mentoring program, it has actually been around since 1938, according to the mentor Duluth web site. The program also specializes in academic tutoring, making healthy lifestyle decisions and creating friendships between mentors and mentees. There are around 300 mentor and child matches currently. The school district will decide on cuts to academics and extracurricular activities in April.