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Mentor program begins

Katie Peralta | Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A group of grade-school children is a rare sight on any college campus, but not Tuesday afternoons at Notre Dame. The group of 20 children, each paired with a Notre Dame student, is part of the new Notre Dame chapter of College Mentors for Kids Program (CMK).

The program, which was established at Notre Dame last year by junior Stephanie Gargala, pairs a Notre Dame student mentor with a first through fourth grade “little buddy.” Gargala, a pre-med biology major and president of Notre Dame’s CMK chapter, took the initiative to start the club her freshman year after much planning, organizing and recruiting.

She got the ball rolling her sophomore year by calling the former CEO of College Mentors for Kids, Kelly Frank. Last year – its first on campus – the Notre Dame chapter of CMK hosted about 10 children. This year, it has grown to 20, and Gargala says she hopes participation will reach 30 next year.

The program is statewide, with 19 chapters currently in Indiana, she said. Among the universities that participate are Indiana, Ball State and Purdue, which presently has 80 students.

College Mentors for Kids tries to expose children to college life to emphasize the importance of higher education. Each Tuesday, buses drive students from Holy Cross Grade School in South Bend to Notre Dame to participate in activities divided into three categories: culture and diversity, higher education and community service.

Kids can participate in activities like watching Irish step dancing, touring the law school and conducting a mock-trial, viewing the new planetarium at Jordan Hall, making “Welcome Home” signs for Habitat for Humanity and keeping journals about their experiences.

“It is important to stress that we are not tutoring the kids,” Gargala said, “just exposing them to all a university has to offer.”

Gargala said the group does not yet have official club status, but is working on acquiring it before next year.

Currently the program operates under Domers Mentoring Kids. This program is an umbrella for five mentorship groups on campus, including Our Lady’s Helpers, Bandlink, SAINTS, Elston and College Mentors for Kids.

While the program aims to spark children’s interest in higher education, it is not limited to students whose parents did not go to college.

Exposing children to university life may have a positive effect. Several third graders, who are required to take the standardized ISTEP test, have shown improved scores in recent years following participation in the mentoring program, Gargala said.

In addition, 71 percent of teachers reported improved literacy skills as a result of their students participating in CMK, according to collegementors.org. Gargala said students also seem to have an overall greater interest in education as a result of their mentoring experience.

Gargala, whose duties include taking charge of the program’s budget, transportation and communication, is proud of her new passion.

“Those two hours of my week [mentoring] are such a relief when I don’t have to think about work or anything. It’s so much fun. I even learned a lot about my school,” she said.

Students interested in participating in College Mentors for Kids should visit the group’s table at next year’s Activities Night.