May 18, 2016

KUSD mentors, students celebrate year’s efforts

By Bill Guida
Kenosha News

Mentors and their students celebrated the school year during an indoor picnic Tuesday at the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha.

Ed Kupka, the Kenosha Unifi ed School District’s coordinator of student support, described the picnic as “a thank you to the mentors and volunteers, and a celebration with the students.”

“I think mentoring is getting a more positive spotlight in our schools,” Kupka added. “It’s for those kids who need a bit more individual attention in a way a teacher just can’t provide.”

An estimated 350 mentors work with Unified students at all levels, from elementary through high school.

Helping children

Taejiah, 11, a Brass Elementary School fifth-grader, has been mentored since first grade by JoAnn Canard.

During that half-hour one day a week “I don’t have to be in class arguing with the other kids, and she helped me read,” Taejiah said, sitting across a lunch table from Canard. “(Mentors) be the only one at school who understands you.”

“She complains, but she’s a good kid. She really is,” Canard said, smiling as Taejiah joined other pupils to play in another area.

Canard became a mentor after she retired, saying she wanted to help children.

Janice Caputo, a mentor for 12 years, works with two students. Early on, she had as many as five at a time.

“We try to pick them up in third grade and stay with them through fifth,” Caputo said. “It gives you a great sense of accomplishment to take some of the students who need more individual attention. I’m there for them to share with...Sometimes they just come in having a bad day.”

More needed

Grant Elementary School social worker and counselor Josh Kroetz helps identify pupils there for potentially pairing up with a mentor.

“I think it really helps. We just need more people. It’s a minimum of 30 minutes per week. It gives students another adult they can talk with. They can come in and play games, spend positive time together.”

Four local organizations — the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, Goodwill’s Foster Grandparent Program and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kenosha-Racine —help supply mentors.

Said Teri Muehlbauer, KABA’s mentor coordinator and a mentor herself: “We do it because of KABA’s commitment to education and the value of education. Our mission is to make Kenosha County a good place to work, live and play.

“I think, if anything, we’ve learned how valuable the mentors are in schools. There’s a huge need for more.”

Tanya Ruder, Unified communications director, agreed. “Three-hundred fifty make a big difference. But another 350 would make a lot more.”

Beyond the classroom

Karl Frederick, a retired Kenosha News editor, is in his 13th year as a KABA mentor. He has mentored seven children, including four currently under his wing.

Frederick plays the card game “War” with them, helping them learn to multiply, add and subtract whenever numbered cards get turned up simultaneously.

He helps them in other ways too. “You get to tell him about your problem,” said Jamari Allen, 12, a sixth-grader at Lance Middle School. “He can give you tips, like how to control your anger.”

Fellow mentee Avonis Marescalco, a Lincoln MiddleSchool sixth-grader, agreed.

“He helps me with my anger,” Avonis said. “If I’m upset, I’ll talk to him. He just tells me stuff I need to know (to control my temper).”

As for becoming a KABA mentor, Frederick said: “I just think it was something I could do to try to help with kids, sometimes with schoolwork, sometimes with anger management issues, sometimes with respect. I think it gives a student a break from what they’re normally doing.”

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