CHAPEL HILL - The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school systems Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program received high marks for effectiveness in a recent UNC review.
The study found students have achieved a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, despite coming from socioeconomic backgrounds that put them at-risk for school failure.
Almost all of the mentored students have gone on to college.
Blue Ribbon has a comprehensive set of services that is almost unmatched anywhere in the country: advocacy, college visits, parent university, individual mentoring, youth leadership, service learning, said UNC education professor George Noblit, who co-authored the study. Most programs will have one or two of those.
The study was paid for by a $70,000 grant from the Oak Foundation, a Swiss nonprofit with a U.S. office in Chapel Hill.
Although it called Blue Ribbon extremely effective in promoting graduation and college enrollment, and noted significant improvement on students grade point averages, it found the program had no similar effect on test scores.
This represents a challenge to CHCCS, the study found. How can the motivation and classroom work of these students be converted into improved test scores?Help for parents too
Blue Ribbons goal remains the same since is founding: helping all students reach their full potential.
The program has served 255 students over the past 16 years. Students are selected in third grade to join the program in fourth grade and continue through high school. Last year it had 128 mentees working with a mentor.
But its not only students who get a leg-up from Blue Ribbons network of community volunteers and paid CHCCS staff. Childrearing has gotten a big assist from the programs Parent University.
The classes and one-day seminars teach computer skills, nutrition, child discipline and 22 other subjects such as bullying prevention and tax literacy. Organizations including Duke Law School, the UNC School of Education and Orange County Family Resources Centers have led the free classes.
Seventy-five parents enrolled in 2011-12, the first year. Of those, 34 met the graduation requirement of attending three classes or workshops, one event at their childs school, and attending one face-to-face meeting with their childs teacher.
Graduates received a diploma, and in some instances, a used computer or free Internet access at home.
Rodolfo Espinosa, who took classes in child nutrition and discipline, said he hopes more parents will use Parent University.
We come from Mexico City, where parents are much more strict, he said. I hope more parents go to these classes to learn how it is important to understand their child.
Espinosa took classes last year, whenever his work as a landscaper allowed it. The seminars taught him how to try to understand his daughter as a child and use good discipline without being physical.
That was a lot different than his own upbringing, he said.
Espinosa said he and his wife Fabiola make sure to take time to play with their 6-year-old after school, even when they are both tired from work. He prefers an activity, like taking her out on her bicycle, to sitting in front of the TV.
I dont know where I get the energy, but you make time. You have to. Its important.More money possible
School Board members Michelle Brownstein and Jamezetta Bedford expressed openness to more district funding for Blue Ribbon and its affiliate programs.
The Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocates budget totaled just under $500,000 for the 2012-13 fiscal year, director of volunteer services and longtime Blue Ribbon director Graig Meyer said. Parent University has a budget of about $75,000.
More money would be best used creating more programs, rather than hiring additional staff. But Meyer stressed what Blue Ribbon really needs is more volunteers and mentors.
We need at least 20 new volunteers, he said. Even more than more money from the school board, we need more volunteers from the community.