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Matilda Raffa Cuomo

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Change a Life, Become a Mentor: Giving our Time to a Child Is the investment of a Lifetime

Posted: 06/15/2012 5:49 pm

It's the end of the school year, but bullying will continue to impact youth across America. Online bullying can torment children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even when they are not in school. Sadly, bullying has become an endemic problem.

The statistics are staggering -- approximately 1 out of every 3 children and 9 out of 10 LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) students have been bullied. As many as 100,000 students per year drop out of school because of bullying and as many as 160,000 students per day stay home because of bullying.

The well-being of every child depends on three pillars of support: the home, the school and the community. Too many children in America are struggling to find their way through the perils of bullying, drugs, alcohol and dangerous permissiveness without strong adult role models.

Today, mentoring is recognized as one of our most effective youth and family social programs, one which encourages and facilitates the education and self-confidence of young people. Mentoring is a lifetime investment in a child and one that is critically important today to prevent school dropout, improve self-esteem and combat the widespread bullying in America's schools and online.

I was luckier than many of these children -- in addition to having wonderful, devoted parents, I was blessed with mentoring role models. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Kulyer, was my first role model beyond my parents. I was shy and insecure at the time, unwilling to speak or assert myself in class. Mrs. Kulyer took the time to talk to me and draw me out. When she told me I would someday make a great teacher, a whole world opened up for me. I pursued my dream of teaching and eventually taught grade school after graduating Teacher's College of St John's University.

Mentoring programs like Mentoring USA are needed to foster a greater awareness and respect for the diversity of people and appreciation for one's own culture and heritage. Such programs measurably improve a child's chance of living a more harmonious, peaceful and productive life. Numerous studies show the links between mentoring programs and increased self-esteem, higher academic achievement, improved school attendance and lower dropout rates. By giving one-to-one attention to children who are victims of bullying or in need of support, we can make a profound difference in their lives.

This is not a partisan issue, but one that all must embrace -- investing in our children is investing in our nation's future. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has written, "At a time when there seems to be so little that people agree on, ensuring that children have caring, supportive, responsible adults involved with their lives is a mission worthy of bipartisan, broad-based support. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do."

Over the past few months there have been tragic stories of young people taking their lives due to bullying. Last month 12-year-old Joel Morales hanged himself in East Harlem after being driven to suicide by bullies who mercilessly teased him about not having a father -- his father died when he was a baby. Studies have shown there is a strong connection between being bullied and suicide.

No students should feel unsafe in their learning environment -- when they're more focused on the harassment coming from classmates than they are on their learning. The caring, effective support of mentoring programs can create cultural change with lasting impact on America's youth by providing positive support systems and effective strategies to combat bullying.

As one of Mentoring USA's mentees, 15-year-old Deneen Borner said when she introduced First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Mentoring Summit in January 2011: "I am an example of how mentoring can completely change a life." Giving our time to help youth in need is one of the best investments we can make to ensure that young people achieve their potential.

For a compelling example of Mentoring USA's role in helping youth realize their potential, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agDNYuAW-Os. Learn more about Mentoring USA's programs at www.mentoringusa.org

 
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