Investing in kids’ futures: Mentors and mentorship program celebrated, now in its fifth year at WMS

  • Eighteen of the 36 adults who serve in Waimea Middle School’s mentoring program attend the May 3 year-end event. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)

  • WMS student Kalei Aikau-Akau works with her mentor Kathleen Andresen during the year-long program. (COURTESY PHOTO/WMS)

  • Kasem Nithipatikom is recognized May 3 as one of WMS’s mentoring program volunteers. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)

  • Students in Waimea Middle School’s mentoring program enthusiastically pose for a photo following the May 3 event. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)

WAIMEA — Waimea Middle School (WMS) instituted a mentoring program for students in 2013 and, according to their staff member Pat Rice, it has been paying huge dividends ever since.

“We have personally observed positive growth in most students participating,” she said.

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During the 2017-2018 school year, 46 WMS students have been mentored by 36 adult volunteers.

Mentored students are 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip school. They exhibit reduced symptoms of depression and make documented progress in social acceptance, academic attitudes and grades, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that helps millions of Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service.

At a special year-end event honoring WMS mentors May 3, eighth-grader Kalei Aikau-Akau spoke from the heart as she addressed the crowd.

“I wanted to thank all the mentors, and my mentor in particular,” she said. “I am the only eighth-grade student who has had a mentor for three years straight.”

Aikau-Akau’s mentor, Kathleen Andresen, lives in Kona and has made the drive to Waimea once a week for the past three years to meet with her. That level of commitment means everything to the student.

“Kathleen is literally my rock. She helps me with school stuff, family drama, friend drama — everything,” Aikau-Akau said. “She is my best friend in school and knows ways to comfort me when other people can’t.”

The two work on the different things when they meet, including homework, lauhala weaving and art. But sometimes they just talk.

“It feels really good sometimes just to talk because I don’t have anyone I can talk to,” Aikau-Akau said. “With Kathleen, I feel comfortable. I can tell her anything.”

“It’s so nice to see the laughter and joy that comes from students with their mentors,” Amy Kailimai said, WMS’ mentor program coordinator. “They really enjoy playing basketball, board games and spending time with them. We have mentors who have taught students how to make jewelry, crafts, sew, art or build a model car.”

But students also talk about their future, such as college, jobs and careers, and get help with their homework. It’s no wonder, then, that Kailimai said she’s approached on a daily basis by students not currently involved in the program, seeking his or her own mentor.

“They see having a mentor as a fun, positive thing. They want so much to have someone to talk to, who can be a good listener and help them with school work or just talk story,” she said.

WMS is always in need of more mentors; people in the community who can give a small portion of their time weekly to be positive role models to students like an uncle, aunty, kupuna or just a friend.

Current volunteers say the experience is as worthwhile for them as it is for the students. Fred Peals has been mentoring students for five years.

“It’s more like a big-brother little-brother relationship than anything else,” he said. “I’m proud to be part of this program and hope it can continue. It is great for the kids, school and the community.”

Jan Marrack has been mentoring students for four years. As a retired licensed clinical social worker who did home visits for single moms and families with babies and young children, she knows how important positive life experiences are for healthy development.

“Middle school is a very difficult time for young people,” she said. “As a volunteer mentor, I thought I might help provide a healthy perspective for kids.”

Marrack lets her mentee dictate how the two will spend their time. For example, for three years she mentored a girl who was very quiet and liked to do art.

“By eighth grade, she was a chatterbox,” Marrack said. “Something changed and we can’t be certain what it was.”

This year, she mentored a 13-year-old and felt the student’s outlook and behavior definitely changed for the better, as she now makes better choices.

“She is the only person who could make that change and I applaud her for it,” Marrack said. “As a mentor, I think it is important to be nonjudgmental and to ask the right questions. I encourage members of the community to get involved. It is very satisfying work.”

Kasem Nithipatikom, who has been a WMS mentor for two years, also sees inherent benefits in a mentor-mentee relationship.

“I believe students are different and may need different motivations to learn and desire to do better,” he said. “They may need someone to give them individual attention and listen to them.”

One-on-one interactions can be difficult for students to obtain in classes or big groups, Nithipatikom said, so a small amount of time that mentors can spare for students can make a big difference in their lives.

One of his mentees improved his mathematics grade from a D to an A. Another, who was initially very quiet with his teachers and other people, became more comfortable starting conversations and now talks to his classmates more.

“The mentoring program is wonderful. You cannot imagine how many students need someone to spend more time with them and listen to what’s on their minds,” Nithipatikom said.

Aikau-Akau is living proof mentoring works.

“When I was in the sixth grade, I didn’t have self-respect because I was dealing with so much at the time,” she said. “Talking with Kathleen helped me not be ashamed of who I am. I’d definitely like to see more kids take my place in having mentoring throughout their middle school years. It helped me to go through it a lot easier than if I was going through it by myself.”

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The program is funded for one more school year. WMS is seeking monetary support to help continue it for years to come.

To be a mentor or make financial contributions, contact Amy Kailimai at 887-7646 or amy_kailimai@wmpccs.org

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