AmeriCorps mentors help under served students in Kern County

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KCSOS Staff News story

By: Kristin Vartan, 23ABC , Anthony Wright, 23ABC

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — There’s power in having someone cheer you on. It’s what one Kern Community Mentoring AmeriCorps Program shares about the many reasons why mentorship for underserved students can be life-changing.

Lots of us can think of a person in our life that changed the course of our lives forever. Maybe it’s a teacher, a coach, or a school counselor. AmeriCorps mentors do that for 25 students every school year.

Joan Giovanni has been an AmeriCorps mentor since January at East Kern Community School. She recalls one mentee who had experienced homelessness three times and at 18 years old was on the brink of losing housing again. Giovanni stood by his side as he applied to all four branches of the military and got a call from the Marines.

“He came to school every single day. If there’s a reason he missed, it was for a legitimate reason. He wanted to graduate more than anything. The look on his face when he realized ‘I’ll have housing. I’ll have income, and I’ll have a brothership. I will have a community that I belong to’ and giving him that exposure, that mentoring, that support, to go look for it and be successful in that search.”

It’s that sentiment that it can take just one person who believes in you to change the course of your life that AmeriCorps provides.

Kern Community Mentoring AmeriCorps has helped more than 700 students from 3rd to 12th grade at schools across the region with student engagement and preparing for their futures post-graduation. Nearly 70% of the students that were mentored for 20 hours or more improved their attendance and had fewer behavior-related referrals and suspensions. In addition, 99% of the students that were mentored for 20 hours or more reported growth on three out of 5 subsets of the BERS-2 assessment.

The Behavioural and Emotional Rating Scale 2nd Edition (BERS-2) is a strength‐based approach to assessment and provides an overall index of a child’s strengths and competencies from three perspectives: self, parent, and teacher. Items cover domains such as interpersonal strengths, functioning at school, affective strength, intrapersonal strength, family involvement and career strength.

Jesia Romero, an AmeriCorps mentor at McFarland Junior High School recalls one student that almost didn’t even care to graduate. But with some incentives and collaboration with teachers and counselors the student traded in all “F”s the first two quarters for a 2.5 GPA at the end of the year.

“I did get a lot of responses saying ’ this student actually came up to me and had a conversation with me today, which is something he hasn’t done all year.’ I’ve heard from other teachers that he is more social with the students. He is putting in more effort. He actually even tried out for the basketball team. And he did it! He graduated.

Giovanni says being an AmeriCorps mentor brings her joy when students see themselves in a different light. That’s what AmeriCorps does through one-on-one and small-group mentorship.

Giovanni says she’ll never forget when she was asked to sit with a student who told her “I’m just not that important.”

“I turned around, and I looked at him saying ‘you are very important. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently. Everything about you is important.’ And just seeing the look in his face after that. The way he held himself a little differently. Even the way he referred to himself a little differently. Those are the things that just light up my world.”

Besides the joy of giving back mentors receive other benefits. According to the Kern County Superintendent of Schools mentors can get a couple thousand dollars of monthly living allowance and an education award of over $4,000. That’s following nine months of completed service and 1200 hours. The award can go toward paying student loans or future college tuition expenses.

Mentors who are eligible can receive childcare benefits, health insurance, and student loan forbearance. And Giovanni says if you are a retiree, AmeriCorps wages will not reduce your social security benefits.

The program is now accepting applications for full-time mentoring positions for the upcoming school year from September 1st through May 2023. If you’re interested in applying you can find the information online.