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Guest opinion: Parent mentoring effort spreads to Eagle County

Jon Fox-Rubin

January is National Mentoring month and I’d like to alert readers to an innovative mentoring program here in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s called the Parent Mentor program and it focuses on mentoring elementary-school-aged kids.

The Valley Settlement Project and the Roaring Fork School District have partnered to recruit, train and deploy parents as mentors in elementary school classrooms of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Parent mentors participate in an intensive three-day training and then assist in a classroom four days per week, with the fifth day devoted to ongoing training that includes personal goal setting and other lifelong learning opportunities.

Over two-thirds of the district’s elementary teachers requested a parent mentor this year. The result is that in just three years, 120 parent mentors have provided more than 24,000 hours of support for our teachers and children in the district’s classrooms.

From the school’s perspective, benefits are that it enhances parents’ ability to support their students’ learning while increasing parent engagement and collaboration. Additionally, teachers and students benefit from more hands (and hearts) in the classroom fostering deeper intercultural understanding.

Parent mentors bring rich and varied backgrounds and experiences to their roles, and all parties benefit from the authentic conversations and relationships that develop among mentors, staff, students, and other parents in the school community. Parent mentors are now seen as leaders in their schools and communities and are being called upon as ambassadors to engage other families in literacy nights and other school activities. To date, five parent mentors have also been hired as paraprofessionals by schools in the district.

The parent mentor program is modeled after the nationally recognized parent-engagement model created by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association in Chicago, where more than 500 parent mentors are active in the region’s elementary schools. This model builds deep and lasting relationships between students, teachers and parents. Chicago’s parent mentor program is funded through a line item in the Illinois state budget and has a long-lasting social return on that investment.

Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, a sustaining investment stream isn’t yet available. Instead, the parent mentor program relies on a strong partnership between the Roaring Fork School District and the Manaus Fund’s Valley Settlement Project.

Most of the investment in the Valley Settlement Project, which also runs multiple other programs aimed at school readiness and family economic stability, comes from charitable foundations and local philanthropists. The Roaring Fork School District also pays for a portion of the costs of running the parent mentor program.

Before the Parent Mentor program can become a line item in the Colorado state budget, it likely needs to be replicated in other school districts throughout the state. Thus, another partnership is evolving between the Valley Settlement Project and the Vail Valley Youth Foundation. This fall, Valley Settlement Project staff trained 25 parent mentors from the Eagle School District as part of the Manaus Fund’s mission to scale up our most effective programs by teaching others what we’ve learned. The results in the Eagle Valley have been called “transformative” by principals and teachers, bringing rapid change within its first few months of implementation.

If you are interested in learning more about this and other programs, please visit the Valley Settlement Project’s office in the Third Street Center, http://www.valleysettlement.org and our Facebook page. Jon Fox-Rubin can be reached at 970-963-0851.

Jon Fox-Rubin is executive director of the Manaus Fund, which is home of the Valley Settlement Project.


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