Griffin-Spalding County Mentoring Program
The Griffin-Spalding County School System currently has 30 mentors. The mentoring program started in 2012 with 8 to 10 mentors according to Elly Zhilyak, who is the program coordinator. “There should be 10 per school, ideally,” she said.
Zhilyak spoke to the Griffin-Spalding County Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee on Thursday about the program. She said it is funded by the school system, the Griffin Housing Authority and the Spalding Collaborative Authority for Children.
Children, she said, “benefit from a positive role model in their lives. There are 40 developmental assets for a child, and the more they have, the better their GPA is,” Zhilyak said studies show. “A lot can be affected by showing up, being a mentor.”
Parent involvement is encouraged at school but in many instances is lacking. She said 41.2 percent of kids come from single-parent homes, 35 percent are in poverty, and 34 percent are in high poverty areas.
Mentors are not replacing parents, she said, “but as a caring adult, it offsets a lot of what they may not be getting at home.”
During middle school especially, children are going through a lot of changes. “Just having someone there to talk to, to listen to them helps with that,” Zhilyak said.
A mentor, she said, is a caring, responsible adult, who acts as a listener, a role model, a friend. “It is relationship based, showing them an adult outside their circle of people cares,” she said.
Mentors are asked to stick with it for a least year and longer if possible. It is once a week for an hour, for a school year. “You show up, listen to them, encourage them, listen to what’s going on with them,” she said. “It’s important they have someone to talk to, someone to share with.”
Zhilyak said, “behavioral problems, a lot of the time, are because they don’t have someone to listen to them. Someone who shows up, who shows they care, it affects behavior and grades.”
Parents have to sign waivers to allow students to participate in the mentoring program. And mentors are trained. “You have to build a relationship, show them you care, gain their trust,” she said. “Children learn best from example — good or bad.”
Gang members, she said, “are good mentors, because they show up, but they mentor bad behavior. Male mentors, positive male role models are needed instead of gang members.”
Mentors, Zhilyak said, “should encourage the students to be the best version of themselves, find out what they are good at, be a resource to them. They may not know what’s available to them, what else is out there.”
She asked, “Why is it important? Why should you care? It is good for organizations and businesses; it provides an opportunity at social skills building and improving retention. It prepares youth for college and careers, to be positive adults in our community. It builds viable communities, customers and employees.”
Zhilyak said, “one person can make a difference in the life of a child, dare to be that difference.”