- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

MACHESNEY PARK, Ill. (AP) - Marquette Elementary School students are getting a little extra brotherly and sisterly advice.

The school is in the midst of an in-school Big Brothers Big Sisters pilot program that matches 30 students with mentors who meet with them during class hours. The Big Brother or Sister spends half an hour each week playing games, working on academic skills or just talking with a student. The program’s directors hope students will benefit from spending time with mentors who aren’t teachers or relatives.

Hillary Miley, Marquette’s special education consultant, contacted the YMCA of Rock River Valley’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program when she decided the school would benefit from more volunteers. The individualized attention has helped students improve their confidence and work on relationship-building skills, Miley said.

“They just need that extra mentor to make them feel better about themselves,” she said.

For the YMCA, Marquette’s request came at the perfect time. Sharetha Lewers, the Big Brothers Big Sisters program director, said the group is looking to expand its site-based activities. Traditionally, the program matches children and teens with mentors who spend time with them after school or on weekends.



The YMCA has matched about 25 such mentors and mentees throughout the Rockford region but is exploring new ways to create such relationships. Big Brothers Big Sisters also will pair mentors with kids in Rockford’s Head Start program starting in January. Lewers said schools and academic settings are ideal for the program’s growth.

“The focus is a little different,” Lewers said. “Our program is set up in a way where, not only are they working on school work or academics, but there also is opportunity for conversations and free play.”

Antonio Santiago, a Marquette third-grader, meets with his Big Sister, Candace Clark, on Thursday mornings, when the two play games and chat. Antonio gave his time with Clark “11 stars” and said his favorite part of their sessions is “talking about myself.”

Cherish Schwartz, Antonio’s mom, said having a person to talk to outside the family has improved her energetic son’s behavior during school.

“He doesn’t have to worry about making mom or dad mad,” Schwartz said.

Clark, a retired professor, teacher and corporate education specialist, became a Big Sister because she missed teaching, especially younger children. She moved to Rockford a couple of years ago to be near her son, and relishes spending time with the four Marquette students she mentors. She hopes to help children in the Head Start program, as well.

“The kids are just great, Clark said. “They’re really eager and welcoming.”

Clark describes Antonio as “a joy.” She said she enjoys being a Big Sister because she can help him improve his skills but doesn’t need to teach him specific things.

“It really gives him a chance to talk about what he wants to talk about and get all of those pent-up things off of his system,” Clark said. “We really have a good time.”

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Source: Rockford Register-Star, https://bit.ly/1IngI5E

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Information from: Rockford Register Star, https://www.rrstar.com

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