Mentoring group formed to boost test scores

Published 12:28 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shyness prevailed at the first dinner meeting of the Girls Helping Girls mentoring group at Ferriday Upper Elementary School last month.

Ketchup squirting and cheese curls crunching were the only sounds that could be heard. But then came a little chatter, then a little laughter.

“Y’all are quiet for a bunch of little girls,” said sponsor and fourth-grade teacher Sharon Davis, but Davis and FUES Principal Cindy Smith are confident the shyness will give way.

Davis founded Girls Helping Girls three years ago in an effort to boost LEAP test scores. The test is administered only to fourth and eighth graders during the spring semester, so Davis thought why not pair up fourth and eighth grade girls to encourage one another through the final stretch of the school year.

Conveniently, the elementary school is right next door to Ferriday Junior High School. The mentors are assigned class periods to tutor their mentees in subjects which they are struggling. That’s when Davis invokes Girls Helping Girls’ cardinal rule.

“We’re not giving them the answers, but teaching them how to do something,” Davis said. “We’re here to make a positive difference in our community.”

The LEAP test measures student achievement in English, mathematics, science and social studies. Achievement levels are categorized as advanced, mastery, basic, approaching basic and unsatisfactory.

While English scores remained steady, 29 percent of fourth graders tested at the unsatisfactory achievement level in mathematics in 2008 compared to 40 percent in 2007. Thirty-four percent of fourth graders tested at the basic level in mathematics in 2008 compared to 24 percent in 2007.

Davis and Smith are uncertain whether Girls Helping Girls contributed to the improved scores, but they want to think so.

“The teachers can tell there’s been an improvement in school work, and you hope that reflects on the LEAP test,” Smith said. “(The test scores) are not where we want them to be yet, but they’re improved.”

Academics aside, Davis said Girls Helping Girls is an opportunity for students to forge relationships that last beyond their school years.

As part of their first assignment, the young mentors and mentees were asked to reveal two little known facts about themselves.

FJHS student La’Tondria Jefferson, 14, along with Marquane Meredith, 10 and Quintaine Newbill, 9, made their introductions outside the elementary school.

“I like having fun with my family and singing and dancing,” Newbill said.

“I really like math and I want to become a lawyer,” Jefferson said.

A first-time mentor, Jefferson said she is not nervous about tutoring Meredith and Newbill, and wants to set a good example for them.

“It feels good to help people with their work,” Jefferson said. “I know fourth grade was hard for me, but I passed.”

Like Jefferson, Geneva Nix, 14, also wants to be a good mentor to 10-year-old Ayanna Morton and 9-year-old Shawneisha Thomas. Thomas assured Nix of her abilities and said she looks forward to getting to know her mentor better.

“This is really good because I have nothing to do at home,” Thomas said.

Mentor Sankari Washington, 13, said the Girls Helping Girls affords her the rare opportunity to be a role model.

“I want to help somebody, and I want someone to look up to me,” Washington said. “I want to give advice, and I want to be a friend.”

Oftentimes, students involved with Girls Helping Girls are paired together based on life experiences, Smith said.

“We have two girls who’ve lost a parent,” Smith said. “We don’t tell the girls coming in, and we don’t force the conversation on them because through their communication it eventually comes out.”

As the weeks progress, the mentors and mentees will learn they have more in common than they originally thought.

“Some of these girls may not have a big sister at home,” Smith said. “One of our mentors had a girl to call her asking how to put on makeup. You don’t think they share those kinds of things, but they do.

“The benefits aren’t all academic. That’s only part of it.”