Making students special | CKSD mentoring program changes students lives

Bell Almanza and Sue Campana know what a difference one person can make in the life of a young person.

Sitting in the library of Ridgetop Junior High School recently, the two laughed quietly and talked about their lives and school as well as their hopes and dreams.

The scene might have been that of any two friends spending time together, but Almanza and Campana are actually a mentor and a mentee in the Kitsap Central School District’s mentoring Program. They are a group geared towards making an impact in the life of students on multiple levels, but it is one that often also makes a difference in the life of the mentor.

Depending on the age of the mentee, the mentors interact with students in a variety of ways such as playing games, drawing, practicing flashcards, reading, discussing grades and study habits or just spending time together.

The program, which is in its third year, was founded to assist youth who have been identified as at risk students by a teacher, counselor or parent, and the shared activities are a means to nurture and enrich the life of student.

Jeni Zapatka, the school district’s facilitator for the program, said the at-risk classification could stem from multiple criteria, including attendance, grades or social interaction, but she was quick to point out that the designation was in no way negative: It is an assessment of gifts the student might need help developing.

“We make it very clear that the parents care a great deal," Zapatka said. "The students just need one other person that can support the child and help nurture and continue the growth of the child into being the most amazing person they can be.”

Zapatka said students often need help dealing with a parent being deployed, an illness or death in the family or a host of other issues that could have an emotional impact in the life of a young person.

Once a mentee is identified, the student is paired with a mentor who has volunteered, filled out an application for the program, undergone a background check and attended training for the program.

The mentor and mentee will then be paired through like interests, gender and availability.

Mentors are committed to working with a mentee for an entire school year, and both meet at the student's school at a designated time and place each week.

Although Zapatka said the program was designed to make a difference by helping students with personal issues that can keep them from focusing on their school work, parents and educators as well as mentors and mentees state that they have found personal enrichment through the program and see a difference for the students both socially and personally as well.

Almanza, a ninth grade student at Ridgetop, said having a mentor is like having another friend in her life.

“I get someone to talk to who understands,” she said. “I go to church a lot, and she goes to my church and she is someone I can trust.”

Almanza said the two speak about her home life and her upcoming missions trip to Mexico among other topics. She said it makes her feel special to have someone to be there just for her.

Campana said she understands the pressures that can be associated with being Almanza's age and navigating the social and academic difficulties of school and life in general. She said she remembered being the same age as well as helping her own daughter at that age.

“It is good to have somebody to bounce things off of, because I know that the junior high years are tough years. It gives her someone to talk to, confide in and help through the struggles.”

Campana said she enjoys offering her time to Almanza, but that she also receives a priceless satisfaction from being involved in the program.

“I would say it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. It is true what they say, that you get back more than you give.”

Zapatka said she has received wonderful reports from all aspects of the program, but that the program is always in need of volunteers who want to make a difference in the life of a young person.

“Until we have a mentor for every student we are not done recruiting,” she said.

Zapatka said that mentors are needed from three age groups: adult mentors who are 18 years of age or older to mentor all ages of students, high-school students to mentor elementary students from kindergarten through sixth grade and junior high students to mentor elementary students from kindergarten through fourth grade.


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