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October 30, 2002

Student mentors help teens in school

A little encouragement goes a long way. In some cases, it can lead to monumental personal achievement like high school graduation for students who had been at risk of not graduating.

In addition to learning about law, criminological theory, and investigations, CSUS criminal justice students mentor Sacramento High School students through a program called "Sac-Mentoring."

"It's a matter of caring about the future," says Aarena Williams, a junior at Sacramento High who has a mentor at CSUS. "There is a good amount of students leaving high school who could make it if they were in a mentoring program."

"I love this program," says Nick Damico, CSUS student coordinator for the Sac-Mentoring at the high school. "I started out as a mentor and liked it so much I applied for work in the program."

CSUS students set positive examples, and in many cases, see their mentees enter college. "Last year, five out of 10 disabled students in the mentoring program went on to Sac City College," said Jason Bebb, a teacher for the deaf at Sacramento High.
"It's an application of real-world experience to academic learning at Sac State," says Ricky Gutierrez, a professor of criminal justice who oversees the program. "A great deal of criminal justice issues stem from lack of education, so we are proactive in creating positive relationships between CSUS students and high school students who are at risk of falling through the cracks of the education system."

Sacramento High School teachers and counselors refer students for the program. It is voluntary, but so popular that the waiting list has grown to 20. "We take the most needy when we have too many," Gutierrez says.

Personal achievement is the big win for all involved in Sac-Mentoring.

"I learned how to deal with different cultural backgrounds and see them from a non-judgmental point of view," says Forrest Silberstein, a graduate student currently writing his thesis on the program. "I didn't realize how I'd lost touch with high school students and their value systems until I had a mentee."

Sac-Mentoring is now in its eighth year. About 100 CSUS students are signed up for the program, and typically 80 to 90 complete it each semester. Mentors spend a minimum of three hours a week with their mentee, plus attend a 50-minute class every other week, and four three-hour activities during the semester.

"The way the program is set up is very encouraging," Sacramento High School student Williams says. "I can call my mentor even if we don't meet that day and get help with my homework."

Sac-Mentoring is funded through a grant from Associated Students, but Gutierrez is exploring additional funding through grants at CSUS, and any other opportunities available in order to expand the program.

"If we can touch the lives of at least 10 percent of the high school students in need of this program, we're doing good," Gutierrez says.


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