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Arizona Mentor Society

January 17, 2006

Established in 2003 by seven Arizona State University business students, the Arizona Mentor Society (AMS) began as an effort to reduce the high school dropout rate by providing academic mentoring to local middle school students. Having since grown to include dozens of ASU students with a wide variety of majors and backgrounds, AMS works to emphasize the value of, and opportunities for, a college education.

Based at Papago Middle School in Phoenix, AMS focuses primarily on mathematics when working with its students, although academic subjects such as language arts, social studies and others are also covered. Typically, tutoring sessions last for an hour after school at Papago, which enrolls the fifth through the eighth grades.

Now in her second year in the program, AMS President and ASU junior Consuelo Melendez says that watching her students succeed constitutes the most gratifying part of participating in AMS.

“I have one student who I have worked with from the start to the finish of the semester. At the beginning, he struggled a bit with his work, but he progressed very fast. By the last weeks of our time together, he was begging for worksheets and just wanted to keep learning because he wasn’t confused anymore. He felt confident on homework he previously struggled with.”

Melendez says that some students do not understand their homework at the beginning of the semester. By the end, the majority of them are doing excellent work. However, AMS does not focus on academics alone. AMS mentors also act as friends, confidants, and life coaches.

Though she loves helping the students succeed academically, Melendez says that she really enjoys hanging out with the students. “I love it when they just come and talk to me or tell me a funny story…I like to be with them in their world.”

Some students at Papago come from underprivileged backgrounds. In some cases, dropout rates become a problem after students move on from middle school into high school.

AMS was founded when an established program at Papago Middle School began to falter due to scheduling problems. ASU students knew they had knowledge resources to offer the young students, and decided that a mentoring program like AMS was the best way to go about involving themselves in the community.

One of the major challenges faced by AMS tutors as they work to mentor at Papago is simply getting the middle school students to focus on the work at hand. Melendez says, “The program is after school, and [students] already want to go home…so the most challenging thing is to get them focused and even excited to get their homework done.”

However, despite the challenges that AMS mentors face, the program remains well worth the effort. Melendez reports that Papago’s principal likes the program and the higher test scores and grades that result from the tutoring.

Papago Middle School students also ask their tutors about ASU and college in general, and the sort of experiences that ASU students have. According to Melendez, AMS is often the only outlet that some young students have to the idea of college life. Many of them have never considered college a possibility until hearing about it from their AMS mentors.

“It doesn’t matter what background you come from, college is an opportunity for everybody,” says Melendez.

With funding from sponsor R & M Forklift Repair as well as support and advice from ASU staff advisor Sharon Jones, AMS continues to offer homework help as well as personalized mentorship and attention to young students.

“We like to show them how important it is to stay in school, show them where we have come from and where we are going because of our education,” says Melendez.