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Pittsburgh Mentor Program Expands

The largest mentoring program in Pittsburgh area is getting a little bit bigger.

The “Be a 6th Grade Mentor” program has become “Be a Middle School Mentor.”

Due to the program’s success in the last four years, the United Way of Allegheny County is expanding it to include children in grades six through eight.

Damon Bethea, mentoring projects director at the United Way, said the mentors asked for the program's expansion.

“They wanted to continue to have that relationship with their mentee throughout the middle school years and then help to support that student as they move into high school,” he said.

This year’s program extended to 12 Pittsburgh Public schools, with Pittsburgh Manchester, Pittsburgh Milliones University Prep, Pittsburgh Obama and Pittsburgh Westinghouse all added to the program.

“Be a Middle School Mentor” connects adult mentors to children for one hour a week throughout the year where mentors discuss career goals and encourage children to participate in the Pittsburgh Promise education scholarship.

Bethea said mentoring has positive effects on a child’s development in school.

“The students in our program really began to move forward in a very positive way with increasing their GPA by 23 percent between sixth and seventh grade,” he said, “whereas students in a similar cohort who weren’t mentored, their GPAs only increased in that one year by 4 percent.”

According to the program, children with mentors get better grades, are less likely to use drugs and are 86 percent more likely to go to college.

The program started in 2009 with 225 students, and during the upcoming academic year 460 middle school students are expected to participate.

According to a University of Pittsburgh study that evaluated the first two years of the program, 75 percent of children said the program helped them see the value of education and inspired them to work harder in their classes. Close to 80 percent of program participants said they learned more about career possibilities.

The United Way is looking for volunteers for the 2013-2014 school year.

“We’re really looking for people who really want to support and help a young person to not only work hard at things that they like to do and to dream big, but really to give a little bit more of themselves to students in the community who may just want someone to help them and help guide them,” Bethea said.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."