The impending start of a new school year brings another call from Pinellas County Schools for more mentors, tutors and school volunteers.
The school district is holding a recruitment fair for prospective mentors and volunteers on Aug. 12, where people can do everything from consider the possibilities, get oriented, meet with representatives from individual schools and even get matched up with volunteer jobs or students seeking mentors. You can have a free background check done; or, if you'd like to be a driver for school field trips or help with afterschool activities, get fingerprinted for $45 as part of a Level 2 screening.
Once again, school district officials are setting ambitious goals. Michelle Roberge, the district's volunteer coordinator, has set the bar at 500 mentors for the upcoming school year, which starts this month. But she'd really like 2,500 mentors and volunteers.
Mentors are needed across all grade levels, particularly at Title 1 schools and ones that are struggling academically.
"Everyone needs someone that has experience and wants to share that experience - that wants to share that emotional experience," Roberge said. "A mentor can be a friend, and that's really what we're looking for."
When it comes to tutors, those who can help students with math, science and reading are especially in demand; but people with experience in all of the core subjects are needed, Roberge said.
Getting started can be the hardest part. Mentoring a student is one more time commitment, and many people wonder if they can work another appointment into their busy schedules, or what would happen if a pairing didn't work out. But the school district can work with anyone, Roberge said - even if someone can only give half an hour a week or every other week. And if things don't work out, the school district can find another mentor for a student.
Most people, though, get hooked once they try it, Roberge said. She, personally, mentors two students: a boy who will be a senior this year and a girl whom Roberge has worked with since the girl was in the sixth grade. This year, she'll be a junior in high school.
"I get so much out of the experience that it really gives me just a great feeling inside," Roberge said. "It makes my day so much better when I've served someone else for even half an hour."
There's plenty of support, too. Mentors go through an orientation, receive training at their schools and have access to books, CDs and other resources that can answer question or offer advice. Each school has someone assigned to work with mentors.
The recruitment fair runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 12 at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater, at 12600 Roosevelt Blvd. If you can't make it, you can call (727) 588-5050 for information. The school district holds trainings three to four times per month, and mentors can start anytime during the school year.
The school district also will be collecting needed school supplies during the event, which will also feature free food and entertainment from Oak Grove Middle and Boca Ciega High schools' jazz bands.
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This week you can come tell me what's on your mind, hear about what's happening in town and see one of St. Pete's real treasures: the Craftsman House, at 2955 Central Ave. If you haven't been to the art gallery and café, housed in a restored Kenwood bungalow, stop by between 9 and 10 a.m. Tuesday.