Garner Cleveland Record

Johnston task force plans to broaden student mentoring, support program

A student mentoring and support program that’s active in more than 400 schools in North Carolina is likely coming to Johnston County.

A task force plans to form Communities in Schools of Johnston County, a nonprofit that would connect needy students to adult mentors and local services.

The group, which would be an affiliate of Communities in Schools of North Carolina, plans to have support specialists in four Johnston County schools. Each specialist would create strategies for improving student attendance, behavior, course work and family engagement. One likely strategy would be connecting students with adult mentors, said Don Craig, a Clayton business owner who sits on the task force.

For two years, Craig and other Clayton Chamber of Commerce members have run their own mentoring program at Clayton Middle School. The first year, six mentors met with students once a week, typically during lunch. This year, a dozen mentors work with students one on one.

Craig said they’ve already enjoyed some successes, like two middle school graduates who were once in danger of being held back.

“It’s a mentor-mentee relationship,” Craig said. “What goes on between them is between them.”

As part of setting up the nonprofit, the task force will appoint a board of directors. The board will set an operating budget and hire an executive director and site coordinators.

The board will also seek donations for the group’s start-up budget, likely $140,000 in the first year.

While mentors will be unpaid volunteers, the executive director and support specialists will work full time and receive a salary. The group’s proposed budget also includes a salary for an administrative assistant.

By years two and three of the program, Communities in Schools of Johnston County would hope to have money for “student support,” which could include food, school supplies or field trips. The group also wants to have a project budget of $5,000 per school.

Initial schools include Clayton Middle and Smithfield-Selma High School, which also has a mentoring program. The group also plans to have mentors at West Smithfield Elementary and Cooper Elementary.

Brett Parkis, a task force member and financial adviser from Clayton, said the group is focusing on telling people about Communities in Schools and raising awareness about the program. The task force is also looking for potential board members.

Parkis has mentored students at Clayton Middle for the past two years. He said his first student exceeded his expectations, transforming from a kid struggling in school to a goal-oriented athlete who hopes to attend college.

“For me, it’s been a real learning experience to see how much a little word of encouragement can help,” Parkis said.

“There are so many kids out there starving for some type of attention,” he said. “They are starving for someone to give a little guidance or a little hope.”

Kelly Norman, who runs the Wagner House in Clayton, has also mentored a Clayton Middle student for the past two years. She said the D’s and F’s that used to fill her mentee’s report card are now B’s and C’s.

“She calls me her second mom,” Norman said. “She calls me her best friend. That little girl keeps me up at night.”

The state and national Communities in Schools groups must approve the Johnston County affiliate.

Johnston County Schools Superintendent Ed Croom said Communities in Schools must be driven by area residents.

“This is no cost to us,” Croom said. “This is the community jumping in to help the schools.”

Communities in Schools of North Carolina, founded in 1989, says it assists 37 affiliates in 44 counties. In addition to mentoring, other strategies for supporting students include tutoring and small-group interventions, said Eric Hall, president of the state chapter.

Anyone interested in mentoring or helping with the task force can call Craig at 919-745-0793 or Parkis at 919-553-7431.