Being a mentor to local students can often mean reaping more than you sow
Mentor: Change a child's life
By Kathryn Schiliro
Editor's note: This is the second in a summer series on mentoring, an effort by the Morgan County Citizen to encourage locals to consider taking part in this program through our school system.
A former teacher, Marie Segars had copious experience with children prior to her gig as a mentor at Morgan County Primary School. However, she's quick to say that it doesn't take the experience of being a teacher to make a difference in the life of a child– it just takes time... and love.
"You don't have to be a teacher by any means," Segars said. "Children just love your attention and you being a good listener."
Segars began her mentoring experience in the mid-1990s when she was teaching at an Gwinnett County elementary school. She mentored a young, Pakistani girl and moved with her from one grade to the next. She took time during her breaks and at lunch to spend time with the child and enjoyed her experience.
Now a retiree, Segars picked up mentoring again last school year at the county's primary school. Her protege: a young lady in first grade.
"I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with her, sharing with her," Segars said. "I learned a lot from her."
Mentoring allowed Segars to break out her old teaching tools – math games and reading strategies – to supplement what her protege was learning in class. While her protege was initially a bit reserved about the whole situation, crafts broke the ice. "I love to do crafts, so that got her involved," Segars said.
Another strategy to get to know each other, Segars connected with the first grader on a personal level.
"We're also asked to get a little more personal with them: show them pictures of our family and pets and interact in those areas. You earn their trust," Segars said.
A typical visit evolved into Segars asking the child about her week, her schoolwork, whether she'd visited her grandmother. They'd then play games to supplement her learning, whether addition or subtraction games, reading or even Scrabble to help with vocabulary.
"I'd just let her talk for a little while," Segars said. "As I taught her different games I'd let her choose [the game she wanted to play]."
Segars believes mentors are there to not only make learning fun, but also – and maybe more importantly – to provide support and become a sounding board for a child.
"Mentors don't have to teach; they have to be a best friend to that person, encourage them in their life, what they want to accomplish," Segars said.
Asked about what it took to become part of the program, Segars said she completed a kind of mini-resume. Taking her experience, interests, likes and dislikes into account, the school system then matched her with a child.
"They (the school system) always try to match you with children who need a boost in math and reading [to] give them an extra person to read to and do math with to help them strengthen the skills they already have," Segars said.
Mentors are asked to come visit their proteges at least once a week for 30 minutes, and a block of time must be found for the student so that time with the mentor doesn't interfere with teaching time in the classroom. Segars recommends coming more than once a week, though, if possible.
"When you say you're going to be there, you should be there. It's very disappointing to them [if the mentor doesn't show up when they've said they would]," she said. "Let them trust you, and let it be an accepted trust, not something that's broken in the future."
Segars encourages those who might be comtemplating becoming a mentor to "go with an open heart."
"Whatever your position, talents might be, there's always something for that child and for them to share their strengths with you," Segars said.
Older adults are perfect for the mentoring position, in Segars' opinion, because children seem to search for grandparent figures to cuddle, talk, even eat with them. Additionally, stories of childhoods of yore always seem to fascinate children, she said.
"You will never regret it, even if you have a challenging person or a person you have to give an extra amount of love to, you're always going to receive 10 times more from the experience," Segars said. "I have actually seen, from being a teacher, children who have a mentor early in life...[it] makes a big difference."
Printed in the July 19, 2012