It’s a Tuesday at noon and all the students at Longfellow Sixth Grade Center are rushing to get their lunch. Only one student, Heather, is standing in the hallway with her lunch tray. Helen walks in the door and Heather breaks into a smile. They automatically begin chatting about their day and what has happened since their last week’s meeting.
Helen and Heather have been matched in Operation Jumpstart for two years. Before Heather had a mentor, she was dealing with several behavior problems, truancy, poor hygiene and social performance. She was ecstatic when told she was getting a mentor. The pair immediately hit it off and have met weekly ever since. All the times Heather thought she was facing alone have since improved and this year she made A’s, putting her on the honor roll.
In October of 1997, Big Brothers and Big Sisters (BBBS) of Sedgwick County and Communities in Schools (CIS) initiated a collaborated effort called Operation Jumpstart (OJS). The school-based mentoring program targets 5th and 8th grade students, students “transitioning” from elementary to middle school and middle school to high school. BBBS and CIS are a natural fit when it comes to mentoring school-aged children. BBBS offers expertise in mentor recruitment, selection, and training while CIS site coordinators offer on- site supervision and insight into the child and school setting. OJS is currently in eight schools with hopes of expanding to all CIS-served schools in the near future.
Operation Jumpstart is federally funded through a JUMP grant and as the lead agency, BBBS administers the $190,000, three-year program and contributes significant in-kind support to the budget as well. The goal of the program is to serve 100 youth at risk of educational failure, dropping out of school, and/or involvement in delinquent activities, including gangs. Often, fifth and eighth grades are the most difficult transition points for students and Operation Jumpstart assists students in successfully completing this transition through one-to-one mentor/mentee relationships.
Each of the school sites are located in areas of high crime, and have an overwhelming majority of students who receive Title I benefits. Stanley Elementary School and Hamilton Middle School have 77% of their students receiving free or reduced lunch and textbooks. At Alcott Academy, the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch and textbooks is at 70%, making the need for OJS a priority for these children.
At the conclusion of the initial 1997-98 school year, Operation Jumpstart had 75 mentor/mentee matches and each school year following, the goal of 100 was met. To this point, including the 1999-00 school year, Operation Jumpstart has served a total of 201 children. Each year the program is evaluated for goals met. Ninety-seven percent of OJS students were promoted to next grade. Average daily attendance was 91% and 99% of OJS students remain in school.