Grand Forks Public Schools opened the Mentoring Center this week on the UND campus for any student — grades 6 through 12 — who needs tutoring, guidance, or just the opportunity to spend time with other students in a safe environment during the pandemic.
School district administrators have said they hope students receiving in-person instruction and full-time remote students, who crave interaction with teachers and other students, will use the walk-in services available. in the building.
“We know the pandemic has put a strain on everyone, both academically and physically,” said Robin David, who began her job as director of the Mentor Center on January 4.
The isolation that can come with distance learning is impacting students, David says.
“It’s serious and it can show up in academic work,” she said. “We know that one of the things that students miss the most right now is that sense of connection with others.”
While distance students connect with teachers and other students virtually, it’s not the same as human contact, said Cathering Gillach, assistant superintendent of secondary education.
Use of the center’s services is voluntary, but some students may be referred by teachers or other school professionals.
Having a safe environment during the pandemic was also critical in choosing a location. The majority of students who chose to learn remotely did so for COVID-related reasons, Gillach said.
The last few weeks have been marked by a flurry of activity as David and others prepare to open the center. The details are seemingly limitless, she says.
“It’s been everything from (how to treat) the most serious mental health issues to, do we have toilet paper in the bathrooms? That’s how it’s been for the past few weeks,” she said.
In developing plans for the center, David spoke with education professionals including middle and high school administrators, the district’s Native American liaison, Chad Ward and English language program specialists about what they want. .
“We listened a lot,” David said, noting that the input was helpful in writing an assessment of the services students need and want, which includes things like help preparing for the exam. university, art classes and university studies. tutoring and enrichment.
“We’re evaluating what that flow is and we want to be aggressive in meeting those needs,” said David, who expects the Mentor Center project to be “a very robust, very nimble effort.”
Among the staff who have been hired to work at the centre, Heidi Lamb Castle, a counselor and special education teacher, sees the value of this place for the well-being of students.
“Our students have been deprived of social interaction and hands-on projects — and even outdoor projects,” said Castle, who is the parent of school-age children. “One of our goals is to meet their needs. So as a counselor I will engage the children in social interactions, small group activities including games, arts and crafts, talks, yoga,” she said, as she attended training last week.
The Mentorship Center, located in the UND Clinical Training Center at Sixth Avenue North and Hamlin Street, is open and staffed 1-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 1-5 p.m. Friday, and noon at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The building offers several benefits, David said, noting that the 16 individual exam rooms that have been used to test the clinical skills of medical students, provide quiet private spaces for students, which they may miss at home. .
A break room can be used by students for snacks, provided by the district child nutrition program, and the conference bowl will be suitable for playing games together or working on art projects, while physically distancing. , David said. And the nearby well-lit bus stop and parking lot make it easy to get to the Mentor Center.
“We’re hearing a lot of interest from (the school district) staff,” David said of the facility, which can accommodate up to 40 students.
‘Sense of connection’
David hired 11 temporary staff for the Mentoring Center and coordinated their training ahead of Monday’s opening. The staff are essential to the success of the project and to developing a sense of belonging with the students, according to David.
“The more comfortable they are, the more likely they are to come back. We want to build those relationships and those connections,” she told the group of new recruits last week.
Staff members include computer technicians, tutors, mental health and social-emotional learning specialists, and teachers, including special education and English teachers.
“They have to be very well trained and ready to help a 10th grader with geometry or a 7th grader with English,” David said.
The mentoring center is supported by a $182,000 grant the school district received from the Governor’s Educational Emergency Relief Fund (GEER), with federal funds that went to the Dakota State government. of the North, said Gillach.
This is the largest GEER grant awarded in North Dakota and is a testament to Taunya Schleicher, District Grant Writer, and the team she assembled to write and submit the grant application in less than two weeks, according to David.
The government intended to use GEER funds to support struggling students and to create a face-to-face, offsite, COVID-safe place that would meet the academic and socio-emotional needs of students. The funds must be spent by June, Gillach said.
“It’s dollars that allow for extra support that we couldn’t afford,” she said.
Nationally, many educators are concerned that some students, who are not in face-to-face learning mode due to COVID, may have academic losses that could prevent them from progressing in school or graduate from high school this spring.
An unexpected benefit to the district is the support the mentoring center receives from the UND community.
“UND believes in the project so much that they donated the space for the Mentor Center,” Gillach said. “We are very grateful to UND. (The donation) means we can spend money on children, not on space.
While details are unconfirmed, Gillach and other administrators are “optimistic” that UND students who earn degrees in the teaching and learning program can also provide student services. K-12 at the Mentor Center.
“We have a very short window to spend the money, but we’re really grateful and grateful to even have this opportunity because there’s need aplenty,” Gillach said. “And we’re pretty confident that the Mentoring Center will be able to really provide some of those supports that kids are looking for and missing.”
For more information, call the Mentor Center at (701) 215-5484, meet in person, or visit the school district’s website at https://www.gfschools.org/Page/ 9332 .