We frequently hear about the education challenges in Florida. Consistently, students struggle to reach our state's evolving academic standards. Add the difficult social and economic climates in our communities, and it amounts to a staggering number of students not graduating from high school each year.
But there is something we can do: Mentor. Make a difference.
According to the Florida Department of Education, 75.6 percent of young men and women who were slated to graduate in 2013 actually did so. In the Hillsborough County School District, 74.1 percent of the class of 2012-13 received a diploma, just surpassing the 71.9 percent graduation rate in the Pinellas County School District.
Only one-third of these Tampa Bay students chose to pursue postsecondary education after high school. Many years of debate and countless studies have tried to explain why and how this happens.
But I'm not interested in joining that discussion. I'm interested in how we — as citizens in Tampa Bay — can help solve this problem. How can you and I help a student walk on that stage and receive a high school diploma? Or, better yet, how can we encourage these students to go to college?
We can work directly with students — listen, talk and show them that we care. In other words, we can mentor a student one-on-one. Academic mentoring aims to boost a student's performance through giving the child academic and emotional support, teaching skills like goal-setting or time management, practicing positive communication and making preparations for their future.
I know many students who have had mentors; and it made a real difference. One girl in the Hillsborough County School District came from a low-income family without a tradition of high school graduation. Her mentor not only guided her through the FCAT, EOC, ACT, PSAT and SAT tests, but also prepared her to enroll at USF. She is now a successful accountant. These stories are consistent with a report recently published by the National Mentoring Partnership that shows that mentored students are 45 percent more likely to enroll in college, compared to the 29 percent likelihood of their nonmentored counterparts.
Not only does mentoring help Florida's students, it is also a sound investment. By volunteering just one hour per week, you can contribute to a young person's future success. It is estimated that mentoring yields a $3 return to society for every $1 invested; and the results of mentoring even boost our local economy.
In fact, research repeatedly confirms that a child's consistent relationship with nonfamilial adults is an important factor in breaking the cycle of poverty. Locally there are programs that have proven both efficient and effective in helping to lift children out of poverty through academic mentoring. The Take Stock in Children program, a statewide initiative that started in Pinellas County, provides scholarships and mentors for low-income youth who face challenges that could prevent them from graduating from high school or attending college.
I hope that as citizens in Tampa Bay, we can recognize the value of mentoring and take the challenge to mentor now. There are many opportunities to become an academic mentor through the Hillsborough Education Foundation, the Pinellas Education Foundation or other nonprofits in the community. We all see that there is an education and income gap in our society. But there is also a straightforward solution that we can take part in. So, why not become a mentor?
Ann Romano is a mentor specialist with the Hillsborough Education Foundation. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.