PANAMA CITY, Florida – Members of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division
(NSWC PCD) Diversity Council (DC) are making great strides in the local community through mentoring.
At the 2014 Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Observance Ceremony, Rev. Dr. Rufus Wood, Jr. delivered a keynote address — encouraging audience members to be proactive community volunteers. Inspired by Wood’s first-hand anecdotes in mentorship, Dr. Jermaine Kennedy led DC members in proposing an outreach initiative to assist and encourage students to succeed in our local schools. The proposal addressed the salient need in our local schools. Since fall 2014, members of the DC have volunteered their time and knowledge to assist local students by joining the efforts of an ongoing mentorship program at Oscar Patterson Elementary School (OPES).
This school year, 14 DC members signed up and were trained to be mentors (6 primary and 8 substitute mentors). At least three mentors would visit the school each week to host two half-hour mentoring sessions with third, fourth and fifth grade students. During each session, mentors meet with students of their assigned grade level and focus on improving the students’ reading comprehension and vocabulary. Students read the assigned stories and are instructed to circle new and unfamiliar words. The mentors can further explain meaning and develop students’ skills with context clues. Students answer several questions and review their responses with mentors.
Dr. Wendell Saintval, NSWC PCD scientist and team lead for the DC outreach mentorship program, believes the students’ grades have significantly improved since the DC mentorship program has gone into effect.
“Between the first and second quarter, the mentored students’ reading performance increased as follows: third grade had a 10.8 percent increase, fourth grade had a 15.3 percent increase and fifth grade had a 4.5 percent increase,” said Saintval. “More telling, when compared to standardized exam scores for reading comprehension in Bay District Schools, OPES students are now scoring at a rate on par with the rest of the district. These increases show some evidence of the beneficial academic results of the collaborative mentorship effort.”
The sessions are also helpful for guiding and positively reinforcing good behavior. During the sessions, the students can earn “dojo points” to reinforce positive behavior, such as staying on task. At the end of each week, the students are able to redeem their points for prizes from classroom teachers. This concept intends to encourage students to strive for success by attentive, positive behaviors.
Darnita Rivers, OPES principal, believes the students have improved not only in their academics, but in a personal way as well.
“The mentors from NSWC PCD have a significant impact in the academic progress of students who see the assignments as challenging. Without the tutors, these issues may not have been addressed,” said Rivers. “In addition, I feel like the mentors are truly caring and personable. It is important for the students to have another adult they feel they can count on in Title I schools such as OPES.”
Rebecca Boxerman, NSWC PCD engineer and DC mentor, said during the last few minutes of each session, the mentors give the students an opportunity to talk about whatever is on their mind. Students often ask questions about their mentors and what is like to work at NSWC PCD. She believes having the mentorship program is an important asset for these students to have more confidence in speaking to adult figures.
“I think it is really important for these students to see a diverse group of people in such a successful role. When I told a student that I was an engineer at the local Navy base, her face lit up and she asked me if women could become engineers,’” said Boxerman. “I told the student ‘you can be anything you want to be. You can be successful as long as you work hard.’ I think that is one of the most important lessons.”
Boxerman noted that the students recognize positive improvements in themselves and believe they are benefitting from having the mentoring sessions.
“I asked the students if they felt like they were doing better in their reading comprehension. The response was a resounding yes,” said Boxerman. “The students told me they look forward to our tutoring sessions and gain a lot from our sessions each week. If even the kids perceive the change in themselves — that is a big deal.”
Alfredo “Alfie” Granado, NSWC PCD engineer and DC mentor, remembers having a mentor throughout his educational journey and noted the positive impact that valuable resource had on his life.
“My inspiration to mentor students is driven by my passion for giving back to the community. I remember having a mentor at their age and how he treated me more as a colleague than a student and encouraged me to always improve my studies,” said Granado. “I hope the students I have mentored will consider paying it forward one day and become a positive impact on a student’s life just like it did mine.”
Having mentors can be life changing for students. Not only do mentors produce academic assistance, but they also provide a listening ear and valuable guidance to help students experience greater success — guidance that can help build a foundation of basic values and challenge students to take responsibility for their own actions. By providing this support, a mentor has the ability to motivate students to begin setting goals and understanding the importance of staying in school.