District One’s Citizen Scholar mentor program changing lives

Published 2:24 pm Friday, March 7, 2008

But with the mere mention of the Citizen Scholar program, the eighth grader&squo;s face lit up and she emerged from her shyness with a smile.

Standing beside Adkins was Cathy McMillan, Adkins&squo; mentor in the Citizen Scholars program, which pairs students with professionals from the community. As Adkins talked about the program, McMillan returned her smile.

Adkins says the three-year relationship the two have built has been important to her.

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&dquo;She&squo;s not just been there to help me with school,&dquo; Adkins said. &dquo;She&squo;s been there as a friend.&dquo;

McMillan is District One&squo;s Coordinator for Middle School Programs and is the coordinator for the Citizen Scholars program for the district.

And she is just one of 14 mentors who are working with District One students.

The program began three years ago in District One. It&squo;s funded by private donors and the Spartanburg County Foundation.

Students are chosen based on financial need, academic potential and the results of extensive interviews with the student and parents.

But this isn&squo;t just any mentoring program. While the mentors do address academic concerns with course schedules and grades, the program&squo;s focus is much broader. It not only concentrates on each student&squo;s academic needs but also extends into the social realm.

Working together across Spartanburg County with other mentor/student pairs from the other six school districts, students and mentors take field trips, such as going to see Broadway touring productions at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C., and traveling to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

The students also get a glimpse of the mentors&squo; lives as well. For mentor Charlie Billeter, that means bringing Justin Dyer to his farm. The two work on the farm together, bonding and sharing work loads. Billeter and Dyer have built a bench together and dug holes for trees, but mainly Billeter spends his time reinforcing and working on self-esteem issues.

&dquo;I want to be a positive influence on him,&dquo; Billeter said.

But it hasn&squo;t been a positive influence only on the student, Billeter said. For him, it&squo;s been a two-way street.

&dquo;It&squo;s done a lot more for me than I thought it would,&dquo; Billeter said. &dquo;You really develop a bond.&dquo;

Different mentors have different aspects of the program they enjoy.

For Carolyn Gibson, a program specialist for First Steps in Spartanburg, it&squo;s just about helping mold a student&squo;s life.

&dquo;To know that your influence may guide a young adult in achieving their goals can be overwhelming,&dquo; she said, &dquo;but it does keep you focused and searching for all the quality experiences you can provide that will make them a well-rounded, self-motivated, successful adult.&dquo;

The students, who in some cases will be the first in their family to go to college, will receive lots of help from the Spartanburg County Foundation. First, the foundation spends a minimum of $1,500 on each student. That money is spent on SAT prep classes, ropes courses, study skills, etiquette classes and numerous field trips.

When the student graduates from high school, the foundation will award a $10,500 scholarship. To date, however, very few scholarships have been given because the students have earned their own scholarships.

The mentors and the students are quick to point out that the program works.

&dquo;I&squo;ve seen what the program has done for the kids,&dquo; Billeter said.

The teamwork pushes the mentors and their students to find that success, Gibson said.

&dquo;We will succeed together and have loads of fun along the way,&dquo; she said.


it&squo;s the students who know first hand what the program can do.

For Adkins, it&squo;s provided drive, determination and focus. Her friendship and bond with McMillan has made her a better student, she said.

&dquo;It&squo;s made me push myself further and make better grades,&dquo; she said.

The current mentors will follow these students to graduation. A new group of fifth graders to participate in the program won&squo;t be chosen again until then.