Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Would You be a Big Brother/Sister to a Neglected Smart Kid?

I am helping Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America to assess the viability of the following idea.

In so many of today's elementary schools, the focus has shifted from bright kids (those with the greatest potential to solve our social problems, cure our diseases, become wise leaders) to low-achieving kids, in part because of No Child Left Behind, which gives schools big carrots and sticks for helping low achievers achieve basic proficiency but no carrots or sticks for helping bright kids to live up to their potential.

As a result, countless bright kids, especially in working-class and lower-middle-class communities, wither in public elementary schools--bored, not even close to living up to their potential.

And if such a kid can't sit still for the six hours a day, five days a week of boredom, he or she is often endlessly put down by the teacher and/or put on a Ritalin leash. This group of kids has an enormous unmet need, a huge gap between how well they could be doing and how well they're actually doing, academically and especially socially and emotionally.

A mentoring relationship is perhaps the most potent way to help people live up to their potential. And that is why I am volunteering to help Brothers/Big Sisters assess the viability of its extending its outreach to specifically include bright kids in working-class and lower-middle class public schools and to Big Brothers/Sisters that would be particularly well-suited to mentoring them, for example, alumni of selective colleges.

So, do you think it would be difficult to recruit "Bigs" (mentors) for neglected bright kids in working-class public schools?

And theoretically, might you consider being a Big Brother to such a kid, for example, speaking with and/or seeing your "Little" periodically, say an hour a week?


Peter said...

I would do this, looking forward to seeing if you can make it a reality.

I think this is a great cause and a very constructive approach to meeting the need.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I don't know if I would be a Big Sister. Or rather, I don't know if I could.

On one hand, I've never been very good with kids, not when I was a kid myself, and certainly not when I grew up. I wouldn't know the first thing about helping a child in need.

On the other hand, I can relate to kids like this because I was a kid like this. I went through the school system before NCLB, thankfully, but there were times I encountered the same situations, like getting more of the same busywork instead of more interesting, challenging work, helping slower kids catch up (a personal pet peeve), and being reprimanded for doing anything but sitting quietly. This happened in both public and private schools.

I would have loved it if I had a mentor or Big Sister at that age. My family offered only examples of paths to avoid while growing up, not paths to pursue. An outsider might have offered better options.

To answer your question, I think it could prove difficult to recruit Bigs for gifted & talented Littles, even those from working class families. Since we do live in the age of NCLB, why wouldn't most Bigs also believe that the smart kids will do fine on their own?

etc said...

I would love to see energetic older people recruited for this project. I am a resident of Laguna Honda Hospital, living with a chronic illness, and I think it might be difficult for people in my circumstances, but wouldn't it be wonderful to open up this project by making it more cross-generational? Think how it might be mutually beneficial to young and old. The idea excites me. By the way, as an aside not meant for posting publicly. when I read this entry of yours, Marty, the first paragraph had couple of typos.

Marty Nemko said...

I think that intergenerational mentorship is a WONDERFUL thing.


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