Creative Mentoring touches the lives of students and adults in IRSD

Date Published: 
March 24, 2017

Coastal Point • Maria Counts: Officer AnnMarie Dalton looks on as OVPD mentees open gifts from the department. Dalton is one of three Ocean View officers who mentor a total of five Lord Baltimore Elementary School students.Coastal Point • Maria Counts: Officer AnnMarie Dalton looks on as OVPD mentees open gifts from the department. Dalton is one of three Ocean View officers who mentor a total of five Lord Baltimore Elementary School students.Although many kids have help and support from family and friends growing up, sometimes extra support can be key. That’s where mentoring can play a big role in a child’s life.

The Indian River School District participates in the Creative Mentoring Program, in which 299 students are active participants.

Lord Baltimore Elementary School Counselor Theresa O’Shields said the program really benefits young people in a positive way.

“It is really good for them. It’s gotten them out of their shy spells. Kids who have a lot of energy, or kids who don’t have a good male or female role model,” she said. “The teachers here are good, and they’re so flexible. They know it’s important for the child’s growth. They are wonderful people here.”

O’Shields said Lord Baltimore has many people who volunteer their time to help teachers or tutor students, but mentoring focuses on taking an interest in the individual child.

“We like to get them when they’re involved with the kids at a younger age, so they’re able to follow them through.”

Students can become mentees through the request of their parents, teachers or even themselves. Potential mentors must have a background check and complete a half-day training session.

At LB alone, there are currently 30 kids in the mentoring program.

“They don’t just work on academics. They build a relationship with the child, so they’re a constant in their life.”

O’Shields said there are a variety of mentors who donate their time to students, from retirees to businesspeople and even members of the local police force.

Currently, three Ocean View police officers mentor five LB students.

“This is the first year we’ve had the Ocean View police be a part of the program. They’re here all the time, so the kids see them as a part of our school. They do check-ins a lot.

“Sometimes they come in in uniform, but they also come in on their days off. They truly have made a commitment. They are in constant communication with the teachers. They’ve taken a really active role in this. It’s great that the kids are seeing the officers as not just ‘stopping the bad guys,’ as the kids would say, but they’re also interacting with children in a positive light, so we love it.”

OVPD Patrolwoman AnnMarie Dalton had worked as a paraprofessional at LB prior to joining the force, and with her knowledge of the mentoring program was able to have two of her co-workers, Cpl. Rhys Bradshaw and Officer First Class Brian Caselli, join her as mentors.

“It’s just being a good friend to them, being a good ear to listen,” said Dalton, who mentors a third-grader and a fourth-grader, “letting them know we are here for them. ‘Yes, we’re in uniform, but if you have something going on, tell us about it. We are not going to — unless it’s something life-threatening to you — we’re not going to run and tell people about it.’”

“I had been a mentee of a program in late elementary, if not middle school, for a reading program with the college,” said Caselli, who mentors a third-grader. “It’s paying it forward.

“At the same time, I already get along so well with the kids here and enjoy visiting the school, it was just an extra bonus to be able to have one student as a mentee and spend time with him.”

“It’s a nice break in the day, going to see the kids, seeing the smile on their face… It’s fun,” added Bradshaw, who mentors a second-grader and a fourth-grader.

Bradshaw said they have a friendship-based relationship with their mentees, a number of whom want to be police officers when they grow up.

“We try to go once a week and spend time with them, whether it be shooting hoops or throwing the ball around, playing… Just talking about how things are going at home.”

Caselli said he loves stopping by the school and seeing the kids.

“It’s a nice break from my normal day. It’s not like in high school or middle school, where the kids kind of realize what’s going on in life. Everything is happy, truthful and honest. Lord Baltimore is a great school with great teachers. It’s a very good environment. I’m happy to be here, see the kids and talk to the teachers.”

Speaking of his mentee, Connor, Caselli said they have become real friends.

“When I first met Connor, we sat outside the classroom and talked a little bit, just to learn more about him. He’s a fan of soccer, football. He likes watching ‘SpongeBob’ and plays Pokémon, some video games,” he said.

“Every time I’ve come here, we’ve gone outside and played soccer. He’s walked around to classrooms with me, because I’ll usually visit classes if I’m working. He’s helped me give out candy to the classes. He absolutely enjoys it; you can see it in the smile in his face, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Dalton said O’Sheilds gave the officers mentees she thought would benefit from having police officers as mentors, and that she has enjoyed spending time with her mentees.

“I love it, just love it. The best part is the child’s expression when they see you knocking on their teacher’s door. They drop everything and come running. It’s a really nice feeling to know you’ve impacted them in that way.

“They’re such great kids. It’s an incredible program.”

“It’s an amazing program. I wish more people could do it,” added Caselli.

According to the program’s guidelines, mentors are not to have contact with students outside of school; however, a happenstance run-in at the grocery store is fine.

O’Shields said the Ocean View officers are just an example of great mentors who give their time to the students at LB.

“We have snowbirds. So, those people are wonderful. They send the kids postcards here. I look at them and then give them to the kids. It’s nice, because they know they’re being thought of.

“Our mentors here really care a lot about the kids and take an interest in them, get to know them. Sometimes they play games. One woman taught a child how to crochet. They do different things with the kids. Sometimes it might be an interest the child has, like art or sports.”

More mentors
needed for program

LB and the district are always in need of mentors for their students, and this year the district hopes to grow the program.

Tracey Gross of Connecting Generations started out as a volunteer mentor at Long Neck Elementary before moving into the role of mentor recruiter. She plans to go to businesses, churches and other organizations to recruit volunteer to become mentors.

“St. Ann’s has given close to 100 mentors over the years,” she noted of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Bethany Beach.

Gross was one of many who attended a mentor appreciation luncheon at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts in January, which coincided with National Mentoring Month. SDSA has approximately 15 mentees, said Counselor Frank Shockley, who noted that many mentors have been retired teachers.

“The way I see it, the mentoring program is only as big as many mentors you have,” he said, noting his mentors are at capacity. “The more I have, the more mentees I can put into the program.”

Shockley said the school could use more male mentors, as 66 percent of his mentors are female.

“I’ve heard that from every counselor that we’re lacking there. They’re definitely needed, because these little boys need good role models.”

During SDSA’s luncheon, each mentor received a thank-you card written by their mentees, one of which read, “I wish I could see you every day,” welling up the eyes of the mentor.

“I think the program is worthwhile. I was really excited about it coming into it. The kids need it these days,” said Shockley. “There are kids out there that need the extra attention, even if it’s just to have the extra friend. They could have the best parents in the world but just need that extra person in the school setting or extra person in their life to help them through, because there are so many things in this world they have to learn to deal with, how to cope with, and how to work through.”

For more information about becoming a mentor to students in the Indian River School District, visit connecting-generations.org or call (302) 656-2122.