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Connecting with students
Brief visits can have big impact
Mentor Kids 4 es
Dana Thornton and Dylan Stinnett share a moment during a game of Connect Four. - photo by Emily Saunders
How to help

The next scheduled mentor training session is set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 22 at the Forsyth County Board of Education, 1120 Dahlonega Highway. Training can also be arranged for groups. For more information, contact Susie LeMieux Brookshire at (770) 887-2461 or
When John Goode first met one of the children he mentors, the second-grader didn’t want to read.

He’d droop his head in his hands and let out a deep sigh. He would count the pages that he had to read and never read a word farther.

Now in fourth grade, the boy has caught up to grade-level reading and “flies through” books, Goode said.

“It just feels really good because you see the student enjoying something for a change,” he said.

The Forsyth County school system’s mentoring program provides mentors for elementary and middle school students.

Goode has been involved with the program for 10 of its 12 years, having mentored four students.

Volunteers visit children for 30 minutes once a week at school, spending time building a positive relationship or helping with academic or behavioral problems.

“In the definition of mentor, it’s an advocate, it’s a guide,” Goode said. “It’s another resource for them to talk to or share things with or ask you about.

“That’s really all you want to be, is just be there as a listener and be open minded.”

Susie LeMieux Brookshire, who oversees the program, said students are suggested by counselors, teachers or parents.

“We have a waiting list at almost every school of children that could use mentors because it’s become a very popular program,” Brookshire said.
“Teachers and parents see it as a nice support system.”

Right now, about 450 students have mentors. With most mentors volunteering with just one student, the number of mentors is slightly below 450.

Brookshire hopes to add 150 mentors for the second half of this school year.

Mentoring gives students a positive outlook on life and another positive role model, but it means just as much to the mentor.

“Every person I’ve talked to that is a mentor has said they get so much more from it because not only are they helping a child, but they feel like they’re supporting their community,” Brookshire said. “They’re giving back and watching what’s going to be the future of our community.”

For Goode, being a mentor keeps him feeling young.

He’s thrilled when his students succeed. One boy he started mentoring in third grade is close to becoming the first high school graduate in his family.

Goode encouraged those considering mentoring to do so “as soon as possible.”

“You will get as least as much out of it personally as the mentee will and maybe more,” he said.

Mentors must be able to donate a half hour on a school day each week, pass a background check and attend a training session.

Goode often attends the training sessions to give advice and answer questions.

For example, Goode likes to stay with the same children for as long as they want. He prefers to give students choices instead of directions.

Every relationship between mentor and mentee is different and so too are the results.

“You may not see academic successes all the time, but just the child’s ability to relate to other adults or the child doing better [are successes],” Brookshire said.

“The teachers talk a lot about the behavior is better, also their academics. They come in to the classroom ready to learn. They’re happier children.”

Fourth-grade teacher Kristina Grimes decided to give the mentoring program a shot this year in her classroom at Sharon Elementary.

She hadn’t tried it in the past because she thought the program would only benefit students academically.

This year, however, she had three students who were struggling with behavioral issues. Grimes wanted to show them that it was possible to be cool and well behaved.

Three teenagers from a nearby high school volunteered to be mentors and have developed solid relationships with the fourth-graders.

Grimes has noticed a big change just since September.

“I’ve seen the three of them together as a whole become more responsible and just excited,” she said. “They’re excited to get here on those days, which is a big thing. They’ve made attachments to their mentors.”

The high schoolers spend time playing football, reading books or talking with the children before the elementary school begins at 7:40 a.m.
The early rise was difficult for the family of one of the students, Grimes said. But the boy didn’t want to give up time with his mentor, so he took it upon himself to help get his family ready on those mornings.

The boy set a goal to get straight A’s on his report card, which he achieved, she said. He can’t wait to show it off.

“He’s going to see somebody ... when the report cards come out that knows him for him and will be happy for him,” she said.

Grimes plans on suggesting students for the program in the future whenever she sees a need.

“It’s been a success and not for the obvious reasons,” she said.