A new Pinellas County program that pairs professionals with public school students in need of mentors is exactly the kind of partnership that can help strengthen struggling schools. The program allows professionals to spend part of their lunch hour engaging students who can benefit from their guidance and encouragement. This is how the business community can help students in need, one interaction at a time.
The Lunch Pals program draws its roots from an effort by Raymond James Financial to connect its employees with students at Mount Vernon Elementary School in St. Petersburg. The company launched a lunchtime mentoring program at the school three years ago. It now has 100 employees who spend 30 minutes of their lunch hour with a student at the school each week. Raymond James recently challenged other local businesses to join them by adopting one of 29 Pinellas County schools selected by the school district. So far, companies such as Cox Media, Eckerd College and Bayfront Health St. Petersburg have signed on. Raymond James also is paying the salary of a school district employee who coordinates the program.
The district is wise to welcome help from all corners. The Lunch Pals program is a promising endeavor that could help steer students toward good grades and graduation. It may not be the only answer to improving public schools, but it certainly can be one of many.