Planning has begun to bring the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Monett as an additional way to bolster young people struggling to succeed in school.
The idea of introducing a Big Brothers Big Sisters program came out of a meeting of Monett R-1 School District's at-risk committee. The mentoring subcommittee, with the assistance of the Clark Community Mental Health Center, looked at a number of programs that could be accessed locally and gravitated toward Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks.
Monett Middle School Counselor Nancy Noll-Meyer, who serves on the mentoring subcommittee, had been a volunteer with Big Brother Big Sister when she went to college in Kansas, later serving on an oversight committee. Central Park Elementary Principal Annette Cozort had also worked with Big Brother Big Sister while working as an administrator with the Republic School District. Both had positive experiences and saw great potential for Monett's involvement.
Noll-Meyer explained the district is looking at a site-based program that could be run at a school after regular class hours. The undertaking would be overseen by Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks, which would seek out funding and volunteers. The school district would shape the activities and program goals.
"The whole emphasis is to provide a one-on-one relationship with a volunteer or community member that would provide a good role model," Noll-Meyer said. "We would look at doing activities during an hour together each week."
Big Brothers Big Sisters would hire a coordinator and then seek local volunteers to participate as "the Bigs" to work directly with the young people. Big Brothers Big Sisters would conduct background checks and provide training. Volunteers, while working one-on-one, would do so in a group setting, always having others nearby, creating a safe environment for all involved.
"I'm sure we have people who would be willing to give up an hour of a day one day a week," Noll-Meyer said. "We'd try to do it in conjunction with tutoring, so the students can get on the tutoring bus and go home at the end."
The emphasis of the mentoring time would be on homework or other activities that would ultimately improve students' grades. Noll-Meyer hopes to see the program start up with 20 middle school students. Involvement would be based on factors such as grades, attendance and discipline referrals. A committee will be formed to select the participants.
Noll-Meyer hopes the effort can expand to the lower grades. The Big Brother program prefers to focus on children under age 16. If the program is successful, the same model can be used at other campuses and also in other communities and school districts around Monett.
"We've talked about having a mentoring program in the past," Noll-Meyer said. "I think people in the community would be willing to help."
Being a "Big" is the kind of activity anyone can do, regardless of age, Noll-Meyer said, and involves a minimal time commitment. Lisa Slavens, executive director of Big Brother Big Sisters of the Ozarks, is willing to speak to service groups about the program. Slavens can be contacted at 417-889-9136. More information is available on the Big Brothers website at www.bigbro.com.
Noll-Meyer hopes the program can get started in the fall.
"We need to make an impact in the lives of the students," Noll-Meyer said. "It's something where people can get involved. The students will look forward to them coming and won't miss school that day. I think this will be great."