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The Smackover-Norphlet School District is looking for volunteers to serve as a mentor to students, particularly at-risk students.

Jennifer Lee, curriculum director with the district, said the program has been in the works for a little while at this point. The goal of the program is to partner adults who have gone through training with the Eagle Foundation, a partner in the project, with students based on interest/need.

“We think this is going to be a very positive thing and a very necessary thing,” Lee said. “We saw that there’s a lot of students who, when they come to school, they bring a lot of stuff from home with them. We recognize that the school is charged with working on the academics, but how can we focus on the academics when our students have social and emotional issues?”

The program, which is now being called the Buckaroo Adults Investing by Mentoring Students (AIMS) Program, is designed to be a community-based mentoring program that begins in elementary school that targets but isn’t limited to at-risk students.

The program is open to adults throughout the community, regardless of experience as a mentor before this.

Lee said those interested can talk to the school district and will be expected to attend training through the Eagle Foundation before being assigned a student to mentor. The Eagle Foundation will also provide support to volunteers while they’re mentoring.

The school district will administer a survey to students as a way to identify students who might benefit from a mentorship program. On the adult side, the Eagle Foundation will administer an interest assessment to those who have agreed to be mentors and help the school district partner mentors and students based on interest and need.

Lee said the mental health of students is a concern for the district and the AIMS Program came out of trying to figure out ways to help students who may be at risk due to adverse childhood experiences.

Concern for the mental health of students across the state was also a large point made by the School Safety Commission’s final report that came out the beginning of December. The report encouraged districts to conduct regular climate surveys, use the survey to adjust plans, train faculty and staff to identify at-risk behavior, create a behavioral threat assessment team and a crisis response team, and work to create a positive climate by deterring bullying and promoting positive peer relationships.

Another part of the AIMS Program, Lee said, is working to get leaders in the high school involved with the younger students. This part of the program will work to identify leaders within the high school who can serve as positive role models, train them through the Eagle Foundation and find times for them to volunteer in the elementary and middle schools.

“A lot of our high school students are very healthy students,” Lee said. “They come from good homes. We know that our children look up to these students. They look up to the athletes, our young girls look up to the cheerleaders and want to be like them one day. So let’s let them. We are going to provide training to those student leaders and trying to look for opportunities where they can mentor and just be a part of the middle school and elementary school. It’s simple things like opening car doors or going and reading to a class when they have a team jersey on.”

The last part of what Lee called a three-part program is the Parent Resource Guide that the school district started collecting information for in December.

The guide is designed for parents who need help finding after-school or summer programs for their students to participate in. Through a form on the district’s blog and contacting local organizations, the district is looking to create this list so that there’s one place parents can go to if they’re looking for activities their students can participate in after school or during breaks.

Some of the examples Lee gave of programs include scouting groups, Camp Fire, community athletics, summer reading programs, tutoring, fine arts, summer breakfast and lunch programs, and faith-based programs.

Lee said the school is aware of some options for students, but want more organizations and more information to be included in the compiled list.

The district is still taking more information and organizations to add to the list as well as volunteers to mentor students.

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or mshine@eldoradonews.com. Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.

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