DOWNTOWN — Everybody into the classrooms! Chicago Public Schools will launch a new mentoring program for nonteaching employees in the coming year.
Called "Mentoring the Next Generation," the program will launch in January and place volunteers from the Central Office and other CPS employees with kindergarten and eighth-grade students with an emphasis on improving kids' literacy.
But, according to CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, it's primarily about placing adults with children in a way to bolster the kids' self-esteem and to encourage learning.
"All students need mentors and positive role models to advocate for them and support their success,” Byrd-Bennett said Thursday in a statement announcing the program. "I strongly encourage this endeavor that will help build the solid literacy skills that are essential to the foundation of a promising future for all students."
Volunteers are "encouraged, not required" to take part, according to CPS. About 1,200 workers at the central office and network offices are eligible. They will "have the option" to make weekly visits to elementary schools across the city and either help two kindergartners for a half-hour each or one eighth-grader for an hour on reading and writing.
According to the CPS statement: "Research indicates that positive adult-child relationships are identified as one of six key elements in a balanced approach to literacy instruction and contribute to the acquisition of strong foundational literacy skills among young learners."
Volunteer mentors will have to complete a two-hour learning session before taking part in the program and will receive learning packets designed to structure the literacy lessons. CPS emphasized it was designed to support, not replace, teaching in the classroom.
Chicago Teachers Union spokesman Michael Harrington said there is no shortage of mentoring programs, but the element that is frequently lacking is parental involvement.
"Beyond the obligatory requirement to obtain a parent’s signature on a permission slip, I hope the CPS program expects mentors to regularly consult with the child’s parents about the status of the relationship and progress toward goals," Harrington said. "Parents expect to be a partner on a team and included in what is going on with their children at school."
CPS volunteers will not have to take part in a fingerprinting program now required of public volunteers, including parents, because they go through that at the time of hire. The volunteer fingerprinting program drew flak at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting over delays in processing and widespread resistance to fingerprinting.
Byrd-Bennett said the mentoring program aligns with her Strategic Five-Year Action Plan and is intended to follow through on her stated goal to make every CPS high school graduate college-ready and college-bound.