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According to the Indiana Department of Education, 15 Indiana high schools graduated less than half of their senior classes in 2006. What a difference a little mentoring can make in the life of a high school student.

The school-based Junior Achievement Mentoring Program boasts a 100 percent graduation rate despite many obstacles facing students in the program. Students are facing challenges such as coming from a single parent or low-income home, learning disabilities and physical disabilities.

“Statistics about high school dropouts and their impact on society should motivate every able-bodied adult to mentor a student,” said Trecia Holloway, director of education with the mentoring program.

Holloway said high school dropouts are eight times more likely to be in jail or prison than graduates. Financially, on average, dropouts earn $9,200 less per year than high school grads, and more than $1 million less over a lifetime than college graduates. Dropouts are 72 percent more likely to be unemployed. Nationally, it’s estimated that 80 percent of people in prison don’t have a high school diploma.

With so many negative statistics to combat, the main focus of the Junior Achievement program is to support students in graduating from high school and entering college or vocational training. The vast majority of students in the program are the first in their families to attend college.

There are currently more than 600 students participating at eight Marion County high schools. The program is active at all five Indianapolis Public Schools high schools. There are about 225 adult mentor volunteers involved with the two-year program.

Brandon Smith, a senior at Northwest High School, has participated in the mentoring program since his junior year when a counselor recommended he attend the sessions. Harry Curnow, a retired engineer, is Smith’s mentor. Smith recently received a Junior Achievement scholarship and will attend Indiana State University in the fall to study business marketing and journalism.

“I decided to participate in the program because I could use extra help in getting ready for college and study habits,” explained Smith. “I found the program helpful. The tools they teach you actually come in handy.”

The 20-year-old football player is the first in his family to attend college. Smith and Curnow have met twice a month for the past year. Together they visited seven colleges before Smith decided on Indiana State. Now the two are busy filling out financial aid forms and looking for summer employment to save for out-of-pocket college expenses such as food, transportation and books.

Curnow heard about the program through a referral. Ready to give back to the community he was eager to learn more and begin volunteering his time.

“In the past, I enjoyed working with youth,” said Curnow. “This mentoring program piqued my interest. God blessed me to give back. If we’re going to be successful we must walk down the street together.”

The program is trying to recruit an additional 400 mentors in the next three months to assist with extra programs schools want to provide to students. In particular, the program has a hard time finding African-American mentors.

“We really need the community to step up,” said Holloway. “We need to get the Black population more engaged in mentoring programs. They’re vital to our success.”

According to experts, having a mentor helps a student socially, educationally and spiritually. A mentor can act as a friend and confidante. When a student knows someone outside of their family or peers cares about them that boosts a student’s self-esteem.

“You become more dedicated because you have someone who cares,” said Smith. “Having a mentor has been very helpful. Mentoring turned my life around.”

For more information on mentoring a student, contact the Junior Achievement Mentoring Program at (317) 252-900 ext. 402 or e-mail Trecia Holloway at tholloway@escindy.org.

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