Martha Dubuque is an elementary school teacher in the rural town of Hardwick, VT. Martha saw a need to develop connections between the community and the school because she felt the children would benefit from knowing adults who regard learning and goal setting as valuable, lifelong practices. These ideals led to the founding of the Hardwick Elementary School Mentorship Program. Martha is the founder and coordinator of this valuable program.
Hardwick is a community where tremendous social and economic challenges exist. Twenty-on percent of Hardwick children live in poverty and 51% of children at the elementary school qualify for free or reduced hot lunches. Many children experience conditions at home that make it difficult for them to be successful in school. The child abuse rate in Hardwick is 16% higher than the rest of the county. Even in homes where abuse does not occur, the value of education is not always modeled—28% of adult Hardwick residents do not have high school diplomas.
Now in its fourth year, the program serves the entire sixth grade class of 47 students. Over 25 adults come to school several times every month to provide support and encouragement to the students. The main focus of the mentorship is to support the student's academic goals. Each student works on mastering 21 Sixth Grade Outcomes. These outcomes are skills and behaviors needed to be successful in the classroom and the job market. Mentors meet with the students individually or in groups of two to three to review the goals and provide encouragement and ideas for overcoming obstacles to school success. Mentors also work with students as they explore future career options. This work is vitally important since it is the only time in elementary school that the students have an opportunity to plan for careers.
A remarkable feature of the program is that it had no funding for the first three years. Martha donated—and continues to donate—her time to organize the mentorship program. Mentors also donate their time without any reimbursement. This year, the school received a modest school-to-work grant from the Lamoille Business Education and Trade Alliance. The grant allowed mentors to take the children on outings to area restaurants and to the local bookstore, where they had to opportunity to choose books for themselves.