A unique outreach creating community mentorship helps kids stay in school.
When Dina Zacharias was in high school, there was a time when teachers wondered if she would graduaate. That is, if she even attended high school at all.
There was a time when teachers worried she wouldn’t even make it to ninth grade. It’s embarassing to think about now, the 18-year-old admits. In middle school, she had just started living with her grandmother and wasn’t used to all the rules she was suddenly expected to follow.
She remembers being angry, so angry she didn’t care who she made upset. In seventh grade, she racked up so many disciplinary issues that she was sent to an abeyance program to finish the year. She coudn’t keep the cuss words from spewing out of her mouth.
But that changed when Dina was exposed to a mentoring program at Jackson Middle School in Titusville. This year, that mentoring program has been expanded to include 48 community volunteers.
Amy Craddock remembers the first time she saw Dina, from across the cafeteria at Jackson, before she was temporarily kicked out. She saw something different. She saw potential.
She said hello to her that first day, and soon the guidance clerk was asking Dina to join a new mentoring program Jackson Middle School was starting. It paired at-risk students with caring adults, giving young teens an outlet and friend.
“If I was upset, she would calm me down,” Dina said of Craddock. “She really encouraged me.”
When Dina returned to Jackson Middle School in eighth grade, the two grew close — so close that, when Dina contemplated running away, Craddock was her first phone call.
These kinds of relationships take time to build, but when they do, it can be a powerful experience for both teens and adults.
In prior years, Jackson Middle’s mentoring program connected students and school staff; now, students meet with adults from other professions, from employees at the city of Titusville to a retired NASA flight surgeon.
Dina is about to graduate Astronaut High School and pursue a career as a nurse. But it didn’t come easy; there were starts and stops along the way, and she and Craddock spent a lot of time talking about making good choices, sometimes as simple as leaving the room before running her mouth.Craddock relishes Dina’s sucess because, as a guidance clerk, she knows that not everyone makes the same turnaround. The mentoring program at least gives students a chance.
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