Story posted May 25, 2007
As part of Bowdoin's Bridge to Kids mentoring program, held May 4 and 11, 2007, Bowdoin students hosted more than 100 elementary, middle and high school students from five schools within Maine School Administrative District #75. "Originally the mentoring programs were organized to 'build a bridge to kids' — symbolizing college students reaching out to local children in need and, in a literal sense, bringing college students over the bridge from Brunswick into Topsham to connect with SAD #75 students," says Michael Wilhelm, superintendent of schools. "We have done that and more."
In the fall each student was matched with a college mentor. Since then, the college mentors have visited the "mentees" on a weekly basis at their schools. This final meeting gave mentees the opportunity to visit their mentors on the Bowdoin campus in order to gain a sense of college life.
For many years, Bowdoin students have mentored local youth through student-run groups or in programs administrated by Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Bath-Brunswick. During the last two years there has been a dramatic rise in the number of college students volunteering as mentors. Increased interest, student leader initiative and greater collaboration between the Bowdoin College Community Service Resource Center, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the SAD #75 school district centered in nearby Topsham are all factors in this growth.
This year more than 160 Bowdoin students have mentored local children through six Bowdoin student-run organizations and four community programs. Every college mentor participates in an official Big Brothers/Big Sisters training; dedicated Bowdoin student leaders work closely with principals and guidance counselors to coordinate schedules and transportation; and the entire project is overseen by an Americorps*VISTA serving at both the College and within the school district. Further support is provided by the member organizations of the Merrymeeting Bay Mentoring Coalition comprising Brunswick High School Connections, Sweetser Volunteer Services, Volunteers of America, Maine Mentoring Partnership, Communities for Children and Youth and the Riverview Foundation.
As a result of this collaboration, more mentees are experiencing the value of a mentoring relationship. Survey results illustrate the impact that a mentor can have on his or her mentee. Following the 2005-06 school year, 85 percent of mentees surveyed reported that the program improved their decision-making skills and 77 percent said they felt the program helped them develop and maintain friendships. Meanwhile, 84 percent of college mentors surveyed observed that their mentee exhibited increased self-confidence over the course of the year. These results reflect the original goals of the mentoring program to build mentees' confidence, competence and character.
Along with the measurable impact these relationships are having on mentees, Bowdoin students are also benefiting. "The 45 minutes I get to spend each week with my mentee are incredibly rewarding," says Tim Sullivan '10.
"Mentoring allows me to experience a Maine community that is very different from Bowdoin College," says Emily Keuthen '08, mentor and leader of the Falcon Friends.
Rebecca Ginsberg '07, leader of the Mt. Ararat Middle School program, commented that mentoring helped her to identify a need in the community and then work to address that specific need. "One of the most shocking things I learned during my time at Woodside Elementary School in Topsham was that many of the kids had no idea Bowdoin College even existed a mere ten minutes away from their school," she said. "Instilling the idea of going to college has been one of the most rewarding parts of mentoring."
Ginsberg's experiences were similar to that of many other mentors, and their observations served as the catalyst to organize a trip to the college for all of the mentees and raise their aspirations for post-secondary education. Bridge to Kids days will represent the capstone of two years of collaboration and growth in the mentoring programs.