Every Friday morning, Scott Skinner goes to Scenic Hill Elementary knowing he’s got a friend waiting, just for him.
But rather than playing Four Square or the other things typical sixth-graders do, Scott’s friend does something else.
She shows him how to be successful.
Scott, 12, is the recipient of a mentor – a grownup who spends time with him each week, to help him get the most out of school.
Thanks to the Communities in Schools of Kent organization, Ann Hagensen for the past two years has been helping Scott navigate the tricky shoals of being a teenage student. As a volunteer, Ann helps Scott understand some of the basic elements of being a good student: to connect and have fun with other kids, to be organized, to follow directions.
“She’s nice to me – she understands me,” Scott said one morning last week, shortly after he and Ann went through his workbox of assignments, prepping for the week ahead. It was evident he was bristling with excitement over his morning time with her.
“We have our routine – what’s our routine, Scott?” Ann asked.
“We play Risk,” Scott announced – referring to the prize that awaits him every week, once they’ve gone over being organized and discussed any issues he may be having at school.
“We clean out his box, and he shares with me how his week has gone,” Ann said, as Scott readied the board game of strategy that he loves to play with her.
Ann, a registered nurse who works full-time as a patient and family-centered care director for the Multi-Care health organization, has been watching Scott blossom. She’s seen him change from a shy, retiring student to a more confident young man who will now take social risks, like being the greeter for his classroom, or giving a presentation to grown-ups about his mentoring experience.
That’s Ann’s reward: Watching a transformation.
“Just seeing him grow,” she said when asked what motivates her to get up extra early one morning a week to spend time with Scott. “I just love seeing him do well.”
But it’s not just having fun in the mornings, playing Risk. Ann works with Scott to make him realize he has choices, and what the consequence of those choices can be.
“Sometimes I push you kinda hard, huh?” she asks Scott, who agrees as he’s sorting dice. The red dice are his favorite.
And, too, even the game of Risk helps.
“If the dice aren’t working for you, it teaches you not to be upset,” Scott said.
“You have a trick to the dice? You’d better teach me,” Ann told him, grinning.
For Dee Klem, the elementary mentoring program coordinator for CISK, the relationship of Scott and Ann is precisely what her organization is about.
In a time of increasing cuts to financial and staffing resources, she said, that volunteer involvement with students like Scott is becoming ever more critical.
“Literally every single person is the solution,” said Klem, seated in a bustling hallway at Scenic Hill, watching kids and adults walking through – some of those adults volunteers like Ann.
“There’s so many kids who don’t need a lot,” Klem added, of students who could benefit from just a small opportunity to connect with a volunteer.
Klem said mentoring kids is not about teaching them school work: You don’t have to be a whiz at math, or good at writing, to help.
You just need to have a good set of ears, and some empathy.
Referring to Ann’s interaction with Scott, Klem noted, “she is here solely to listen to him.”
Just some personal attention can make a world of difference to a student who may be struggling with school.
“(That attention) affects their self confidence and how they feel about themselves,” Klem said. “It makes for the positive feelings they have about schools.”
Back in the classroom with Scott, Ann agreed with that assessment.
“They have to have a heart,” she said, of people who volunteer their time to work with these students through the CISK program. “You have to care for people, to care for kids.”
Ann, whose own children attended Scenic Hill, and who is now a grandmother, said she plans to stick with Scott in the years ahead, as he makes his way as a student.
“It’s a great balance for my work life,” she said. “It’s a different giving.”
Communities in Schools of Kent has mentoring opportunities for grade-school-level kids as well as high-school students. The nonprofit organization, also operates – in coordination with the Kent School District – the Kent Performance Learning Center, an alternative high school that includes a business-oriented element of job-shadowing. To learn more about CISK, go online to kent.ciswa.org, or call 253-867-5637.