Meant to mentor: Giving kids a boost at Phillip C. Showell
Around the table, several adults tell stories about their children. They proudly talk about watching the kids’ confidence blossom, and they laugh to hear about the shy children who wouldn’t speak for almost a year.
These are the mentors at Phillip C. Showell Elementary School, just a few of the adults who visit individual students district-wide.
“It’s about building a relationship,” said PCS counselor Cheryl Carey. “So many kids want to see you, but don’t need a counselor,” so mentors volunteer to visit with the children weekly for just 30 minutes.
Mentoring varies at different schools. Some mentors act as tutors, helping children one-on-one with homework or extra exercises. But at Phillip Showell, it’s just about the student and whatever she or he wants to do.
“It’s just about another caring adult in your life,” Carey said. By building a positive relationship, children look forward to coming to school. A better attitude can improve all aspects of life, including academics.
Wally Watson began mentoring an elementary student, following him years later to Selbyville Middle School. Then he got second student at Phillip Showell.
“It’s nice to spend time one-on-one,” he said. “I love these kids because they really appreciate whatever time you spend with them. … I learn things from him, and he feels good about teaching me.”
“It’s wonderful,” said Donna Lynch. She and her husband, Vic, were Carey’s first mentors. Originally, Vic was concerned about what he should talk about, so everyone was amused when Carey partnered him with an extremely talkative little boy.
Domenic Thompson learned about mentoring through word-of-mouth in 2010.
“I knew it was the place to be,” said Thompson, praising “the care that you feel that the school gives the kids. This is really a student-centered building.”
Like Watson and many others, Thompson followed his student to another school “to keep the continuity with him.”
Kids get to lead the way during their special time. They decide whether to play games, read together or anything else.
“My first-grade student is lively. He is exuberant about learning. He is very ready to try new things,” Thompson said. “It’s good to be around the kids. It keeps me vital.”
When playing games, Thompson encourages his mentee to add the numbers on the dice or read cards aloud.
“You can change the game into a learning experience,” he said.
Phillip Showell Elementary always welcomes more mentors.
“Ms. Carey is the moving force. She says, ‘If you can get somebody in here, I’ll convince them stay,’” Thompson said. “She is the heart and soul [of this program].”
“If they have a love for children, there is a spot for them here,” Carey said. “People think it’s a big commitment,” but it’s just 30 minutes, she emphasized, “building a relationship and being consistent.”
The schedule is flexible, so adults can request morning or afternoon shifts. Some even adjust their schedule so they can spend additional lunch or recess time with their kids.
“I can’t thank you enough for what you do for the children,” Carey told them. “What can you do for the rest of the children? Tell a friend!”
Local mentors aren’t the only ones who recognize Carey’s hard work. The nonprofit Connecting Generations honored her in February with the Exemplary Mentor Coordinator Award, one of three in Delaware.
Coordinators are usually nominated for high participation or “above-and-beyond” programs, but Carey can boast both.
“Cheryl Carey manages this off the corner of the desk” to support her counseling mission, and yet Phillip Showell stands out in the mentoring world, said Rachel Markowitz of Connecting Generations.
“Her dedication and passion you can see in the mentors. When you talk to mentors from her school … they feel supported and engaged.”
The annual awards encourage mentors across the board.
“It’s just been proven without a shadow of a doubt [that mentees] do far better in school and are far less likely to drop out in high school. That’s why we exist, solely,” Markowitz said. “People like Cheryl make such a difference, especially in the schools. Without people like them, the programs might not exist.”
“We are blessed here to have such great volunteers,” said Carey, who said a mentor program was “a great passion of mine.”