KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 1, 2001 -- "No one is a lost cause," says University of Rhode Island student William Carter Johnson who mentors four students at South Kingstown High School. "Everyone has potential. I just try to help them recognize that potential."
"Children are smart, observant individuals who will let you know if something you say is wrong or inappropriate," says another URI student, Tina Kalinowski of Robbinsville, N. J. who mentors a first grade class at the Peace Dale Elementary School.
Johnson and Kalinowski are two of 75 URI students who participated in an innovative Mentor/Tutor Internship this semester designed for URI students interested in making a difference in younger students lives, especially those on the verge of dropping out or feeling disengaged from the school community. The students earn three credits in field experience.
The program was initiated three years ago by URI political science professor Al Killilea and the South County Coalition Against Racism to see if eight URI students of color could break down racial stereotypes while helping local teenage students who, feeling isolated, had the potential for truancy.
The program and the focus has evolved and expanded. URI mentors are now actively involved at high schools, junior high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. Schools participating in the project are Forest Park Elementary, Stony Lane Elementary, Davisville Elementary (pilot program), Davisville Middle, and Wickford Middle Schools in North Kingstown; South Kingstown High, South Kingstown Jr. High School and Matunuck Elementary, Wakefield Elementary and Peace Dale Elementary schools in South Kingstown. Narragansett High School in Narragansett and Archie Cole Jr. High School in East Greenwich.
"We found there were so many needy students that we opened the internship to all URI students," explains Killilea who is assisted by Cherie Aiello, a parent volunteer who now receives a stipend. Aiello schedules the mentors with the schools. "She has wonderful organizational skills," says the URI professor of the woman who organizes closets and offices as a business sideline.
While URI students primarily mentor on a one-on-one basis with high school, junior high and middle school students, they perform "indirect " mentoring in elementary schools. Depending on the teacher and the needs of the classroom, a mentor can either help ensure that a student with social or emotional issues feels included, help with classroom work, or show students how to play respectfully on the playground.
URI students spend at least 4 hours a week at the schools and an hour per week in training sessions at URI.
"It can be rewarding. The challenge is to connect on some level and form trust and to address individual needs," says Johnson who meets with each of his four mentees one-on-one for an hour each week.
"Its their time," says the 23-year-old URI student who holds two jobs. "Sometimes we just talk, sometimes its a time to blow off steam, and sometimes its spent helping with school work. One time it meant going to a hockey game and cheering a mentee on."
Johnson says it can also be frustrating. Once he arrived at school to discover that one student had been suspended. "Not everyone makes the same decisions. Teenagers rarely look at the whole picture. I dont tell them what to do, I just suggest options. I try to be a role model and a male presence in their lives," the URI student says.
Kalinowski is one of 20 URI mentors at Peace Dale Elementary School. She ensures that two students in Donna Santaniellos first grade class are included and she often reads stories to the class.
"Tina is fabulous. Shes part of our environment," says Santaniello. "Shes wonderful with the children. Theyre happy to see her. In fact, they long to see her."
The internship program gets some support from The John Hazen White Sr. Center for Ethics and Public Service at URI. "This is a great example of how the late Cranston industrialists money is well spent," says Killilea.
For Information: Dr. Al Killilea, 874-4056, Jan Sawyer, 874-2116