FOX61 Family First: A new online, school-based mentoring program in New Britain

NEW BRITAIN -- Later this year, in late September or early October, Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters will officially start a new, more modern approach to mentoring – a school-based, predominantly online mentoring program called mentor2.0.

It’s an ambitious program. While, for now, it will only apply to incoming ninth-graders at the CREC Academy of Science and Innovation in New Britain, it’s going to apply to all 110 of them. The school’s principal, Bob McCain, said the need is evident. He said nationwide research shows ninth-graders tend to struggle socially and emotionally with the transition to high school, and he’s seen similar problems in his school.

“Ninth graders are still 14 and 15 years old and still need their social and emotional needs met before the academic needs are met and we’re finding that we weren’t doing that,” McCain said.

To combat that, he’s starting a ninth-grade academy at the school that has a mentoring component to it.

“They’ve been looking for a mentoring component to their ninth-grade academy model so it just worked together really beautifully,” said Allison Holst-Grubbe, the Director of School Programs at Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Here’s how it will work. All of the ninth-graders will get a fully interviewed and vetted mentor, that’s matched as closely as possible with the students’ academic interests, hobbies and job aspirations. Mentors and mentees will communication primarily through email and messaging on a secure server, at a minimum of once per week.

“You’re actually provided a prompt that’s tailored to that week’s mentor2.0 curriculum - the lesson that student has just participated in in school that week,” said Holst-Grubbe. She said electronic communication is more likely to get students to open up, at first, to a new person.

As for an in-person component, mentors will meet with their students for two hours in the evening of the third Thursday of each month. The meetings will happen at the school, and there will be dinner and planned activities.

In total, it winds up being a substantially lower time commitment for the mentors, something that Holst-Grubbe said will be important in drawing in new mentors – especially ones who were interested in the past but balked at the required number of hours.

“Now I’m contacting those people to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got the right opportunity for you,’ ” she said.

Joanne Alexander, the Operations and New Media Manager for Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, is one of those people.

“I’m a single mom so it’s really busy, I work here full time, I also do things on the side at home,” she said, “I think this is a great opportunity - if anyone’s considered being a mentor, then you could actually do this!”