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Mentor program will promote literacy and character-building

By Shawn Clubb
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Holly Knights has few silent days.

She spends much of her time at Mann Elementary School surrounded by fourth- and fifth-graders eager for attention.

Knights is the Inspire program manager at the school for UrbanFuture, an after-school program provider that focuses on learning, career development and character education. UrbanFuture has thus far focused its efforts at Fanning Middle School, 3417 Grace Ave., but it is expanding to Mann School, 4047 Juniata St., which is one of Fanning's feeder schools.The after-school program at Mann will begin Jan. 22, so Knights has been acting as an advance scout - getting students ready for the program. She calls it "cultivating the UrbanFuture culture."News Article Photo

Knights' work has been during school hours, when she visits classrooms to do character-building lessons. In November, she spent a week in each fourth- and fifth-grade classroom to talk about gratitude. In December, the lesson was kindness.

This type of character education will continue when several mentors join Knights' team for the after-school program. Seven people have volunteered to mentor students by helping them with reading, goal-setting and character-building and by staying in touch with their families.

The mentors include a writer for a public relations firm, a graduate student at Saint Louis University, an employee of Planned Parenthood, a librarian, a youth advocate in the courts and the school counselor at Mann.

The Inspire after-school program would ideally have a mentor for every student in it, so the mentors could work with just one student once a week during one-on-one sessions.

The first one-half hour of the hour-long sessions from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. would focus on literacy, while the remainder would focus on character building and goal setting. Each month would have a theme, such as self-respect or honesty, Knights said.

Students will set academic and character goals for each month. Knights said a girl who often lies to her brother could set a goal of not telling him a lie for a day, a week or a month. She said a student who was taken off the student council because of poor grades could set a goal of improving her grades to possibly regain her spot.

Knights would work with the student's mentor, teacher and parents in setting the goals.

Tiffany Sullentrop, administrator for UrbanFuture, said the program is now in its seventh year at Fanning and it was time to move it into a feeder school. She said it is hoped the program at Mann will help prevent the "fourth-grade slump" that studies have shown occurs when urban students' grades fall off after third grade.

Sullentrop said expanding the program to Mann also would possibly give students continuity from fourth grade through middle school.

Knights hopes to have more mentors volunteer to help. Anyone wanting more information should contact UrbanFUTURE by calling (314) 776-3434.


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