Mentoring Program Proposed for Northampton Schools

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By Stefanie Jackson – A retired judge from Machipongo wants to start a new mentoring program for Northampton third graders with the help of Sheriff David Doughty.

“It’s so rewarding to see the changes. So many of the students came from tough homes,” said Joe Canada, who was a mentor for ten years in Virginia Beach, Va., before he moved to the Eastern Shore.

He proposes launching the mentoring program at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year in September at Occohannock Elementary School, eventually including Kiptopeke Elementary School when enough volunteers are recruited.

A volunteer would mentor one or two students and spend an hour with each child once per week. They would meet in the library, where the mentor could provide tutoring or read or play board games with the student – whatever activity best suits the child’s needs.

The mentoring program would be modeled after one used at Seatack Elementary in Virginia Beach, which was chosen as the “most disadvantaged” school in the area, Canada said.

He remembered a student he had met there, who was constantly getting in trouble for fighting and did not have a mentor.

Canada started a conversation with the boy and asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“I want to be a wrestler,” the student answered.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Canada said. He promised the boy that he would be his mentor if the boy didn’t get in any fights for two weeks.

“You can feel electricity when (you meet) somebody that you … identify with. And I felt it with him, and I know he felt it,” Canada said.

Not only did the student meet the two-week challenge, he earned Student of the Month in the last month of the school year.

“That’s a real success story,” Canada said.

The students’ test scores improved after the mentoring program was implemented, he added.

Instead of identifying certain students for the program, the mentoring group would like to serve the “entire third grade,” Doughty said.

Canada said the biggest challenge will be recruiting the volunteers, although he doesn’t believe spending one hour a week will be a burden.

School board Vice Chairman William Oakley suggested looking for volunteers in churches and other local organizations.

He noted that, according to Virginia law, volunteers must pass criminal background checks before they may work with children in a public school setting.

Doughty said he will take all possible measures to support the mentoring program.

Many of the volunteers will likely be employees of his department, he added, filling a need of the program while also giving kids a chance “to see us in a different light,” he said.

“It was really a delight to do it,” Canada said of his past mentoring experience.

The school board appeared interested in the program, and Chair Maxine Rasmussen agreed to place the topic on the agenda for the next work session for further discussion.

Free Lunch Program

Director of Operations Chris Truckner announced the Northampton school division was denied a waiver that would have allowed the division to implement the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) mid-year.

The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would give all Northampton students free breakfast and lunch based on the number of students who qualify through direct certification, meaning they receive government assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid.

Both Accomack and Northampton counties qualified for CEP, but only Accomack started the program at the beginning of the current school year.

Northampton applied for the waiver after receiving feedback from parents, concerned citizens, and county supervisors.

Northampton school board members face a June deadline from the Virginia Department of Education if they decide to participate in the ‘free lunch for all’ program starting this fall.

Note: Public input on the Northampton County Public Schools Comprehensive Improvement Plan will be heard Thursday, Feb. 13, 7 p.m., at the school board office in Machipongo, not at Northampton High School as originally announced.