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Liberty Elementary mentor program praised at school board meeting

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The plan is very simple.

One child. One hour. One week. One church. One school.

But that one hour is just enough to enrich the lives of 40 students at Liberty Elementary.

Principal Christy Jarka along with a few members of her staff visited the Duneland School Board on Monday for a bit of show-and-tell on the Kids Hope USA mentoring program through a partnership with Liberty Bible Church.

“It might not seem that much but it makes an impact on the lives of students at Liberty Elementary,” said Jarka.

The program got its start around 2011 when former Duneland teacher Sue Hyle knocked on Jarka’s door with the idea for a mentoring program that would boost the emotional and academic abilities of Liberty Elementary students considered at-risk. Hyle is now the director of Kids Hope at Liberty Bible Church.

Kids Hope USA is a national program with over 600 schools participating throughout the U.S. which partner with churches.

Jarka said that the words church and school can raise warning flags but the program does require all participating mentors be trained to ensure that they do not violate the federal guidelines on separation between church and state and the focus during the hour is on school.

Teachers at Liberty Elementary recommend students who they feel would benefit from the program and parents must give permission in order for their child to participate.

As each child is paired up with a mentor, Jarka says teachers can see improvement with their self-esteem. The student and mentor do activities together like play games, color, bake and make crafts.

All mentors are associated with Liberty Bible Church and work as volunteers. Each must agree to a background check, a personal interview and a training session, Jarka said. The church handles all costs of the program.

Mentors can stay with the same student year after year. The program starts as early as kindergarten and is now moving into fourth grade, Jarka said. Teachers Amy Maclaverty, Colin May, and Tami Pullins joined Jarka in thanking the mentors for giving their time to the students, as did School Board President Mike Trout and DSC Superintendent Dave Pruis.

Board member Kristin Kroeger asked if the program could be expanded to higher grade levels.

Hyle, who was sitting in the audience, said Kids Hope USA operates primarily with elementary schools. A middle school mentor version would likely require different kinds of programs and training, she said.

Liberty Elementary is currently the only school in Porter County that has the program.

Board member John Marshall asked how community members interested could become a program mentor. Since it is a partnership, the mentor would need to be a member of Liberty Bible Church, Jarka said, but there are other opportunities for adults to volunteer at the school.

The board was treated to a video made by staff and students showing the highlights of the program in a fun fashion and also heard from third grader Keegan Wrigley about how his mentor has helped him.

“She’s fun and we get to do a lot of stuff together,” Wrigley said.

Hyle said mentors also attend school events and get to know the families of the students.

 

Posted 12/19/2013