Officials: Mentoring program has strong impact on student success

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Chronic absenteeism is a major problem in schools across Rhode Island. It’s defined as a student missing 18 or more days of school in a year. And the research is clear; kids who miss that much school fall behind their peers academically, and many times never catch up.

In Cranston, public schools have teamed up with the police department to tackle the problem with a mentoring program. And it’s already having a big impact for students like 10-year-old Armani Vasquez.

In the past few years, school officials noticed some issues with Armani’s attendance. So they recommended him for the mentoring program, and he was paired up with Captain Vincent M. McAteer of the Cranston Police Department.

“We hang out, we chit chat,” said Captain McAteer. “We draw. Sometimes we go over to the park.”

Captain McAteer is one of about a dozen Cranston police officers who mentor students throughout the year.

“He’s a great student,” the captain said of Armani. “A great artist. He’s really skilled in math as well.”

Armani chimed in, “Say what’s 12×12 to me!” Without missing a beat, he answers, “144.”

The officers in the mentoring program visit students at school at least once a week.

“I get to learn a little more about him,” said Captain McAteer. “He gets to learn a little more about me. And we just talk about life in general. Sometimes it’s homework, sometimes it’s sports.”

The impact has been immediate for Armani. His attendance numbers are way up this year, and so are his grades. Talking about a recent assignment, Armani tells the Captain, “You helped me on it and I got it all right. I got 100.”

We sat down with Cranston Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse. She said getting kids like Armani back in the classroom is a major priority,

“Especially at the elementary and younger grades, because that’s when chronic absenteeism causes learning gaps,” she said. “And then each year those learning gaps become larger and larger and it’s harder for the district to narrow those gaps.”

Absenteeism affects every community in Rhode Island and every taxpayer. That’s because students who miss at least 18 days of school tend to do worse on standardized tests, dragging down scores for their entire district, and lowering a community’s property values.

“It’s critically important that kids come to school every day and on time,” said Nota-Masse.

We checked the most recent data from the state’s department of education.

In 2014, the average rate of chronic absenteeism for elementary schools statewide was 13%. Of the 17 elementary schools in Cranston, three performed worse than the state average.

“Certainly we know that students who have mentors have a better attendance rate,” said Nota-Masse. “Their grades are more improved, and that part is a success. But we’d like to see it on a larger scale to impact more students.”

Now the mentoring program is looking to expand; reaching out to community members to volunteer their time.

“This is just a great opportunity to break down those barriers to have some great conversations and to positively affect a child’s life,” says Captain McAteer.

For more information on how you can volunteer to be a mentor, click here.

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