FRONTENAC — You never know who might need a “pick me up” in the morning.
On Friday, a parent of two USD 249 children and a Raising Raiders Mentor Jitka Durman sat with several children including siblings Taresa and Sampson Reese.
“It’s always good for the kids to talk to adults and have a good morning,” she said. “If there is anything I can do to help them, for them to have a nice start to their school day I would love to do that.
“They are all super sweet and I just — look at them, how can you not smile at them.”
Having children of her own at the district, Durman said she understands the benefit of having the mentorship program. She said the program is also two-fold and benefits her children as well.
“I also think that it is a good thing for my kids too, to see how fortunate they are and to help with this and talk to other people at school because they mostly hang out with their own grade,” she said. “I think it serves both sides, the kids who need to talk to someone in the morning and it serves my family as well.”
Taresa and Sampson said they thought having Durman sit with her during breakfast was “good” and they talked about how her day was going so far.
Another parent and mentor, Jenifer McDonald, talked to several students on Friday. The students shared many things about themselves, such as favorite food, sports and their siblings.
McDonald learned that kindergartener Korson Benander likes pizza with a lot of parmesan, but doesn’t like tacos or cheeseburgers. Korson’s sisters, fourth grader Kiya Benander and fifth grader Lillyan Ench, sat next to them at the table, and they shared about how they like to do their hair in the morning.
This was all made possible by two Frank Layden Elementary teachers, Kristina Cullison and Kendra Kunshek worked together to create a new program at their school to help students with their socio-emotional well being.
After taking a grant writing course through the K-State Reacher and Extension District, this past summer, Cullison wrote a successful grant, from which the district received a $6,000 impact grant from the Kansas Health Foundation to “implement a new mentoring program targeting the 43.1 percent of students approved for free- or reduced-price lunches to improve academic achievement and increase graduation rates,” the foundation said in a release.
The funds received go toward background checks for mentors, breakfast, coffee and student surveys. People who wish to be a mentor can contact the district to fill out an application, complete a background check and get access to a training video.
Frank Layden Elementary Principal Courtney McCartney said she is proud of Cullison and Kunshek for taking the initiative to create the morning breakfast mentor program, Raising Raiders.
The program also fits in the districts school redesign and accreditation, Cullison said.
According to Kunshek, Raising Raiders can be one of the “missing pieces” for children who need more social-emotional connection which is a “strong foundation in their lives.”
“We are trying to strengthen our relationships with kids and get to know them on a more personal level,” she said. “We want to motivate them and we them to want to come to school and mentally prepare them to be successful at school.”
The program is for all students in the district, however the main focus is on the younger students, Kunshek said. The mentorships are not paired to specific students. On Friday, mentors stood by the cafeteria entry and gave out high fives. Other mentors sat at tables and chat with the students.
“We tell our mentors pretend they are your children, talk to them and build a relationship like you would with your own children,” Kunshek said adding that it could include encouraging students to eat a healthy breakfast, give compliments, ask about what the student is learning and other “small talk.”
Kunshek said even simply learning a child’s name makes a difference.
“Learning their name makes a huge difference in people's lives,” she said. “You feel better when people notice you, that we care about you.”
McDonald, a graduate from Frontenac Schools, said the mentorship program is helping instill a “Raider” sense of community into the students.
“I’m watching a new generation grow up and be Raiders,” she said.