Birchwood Middle School kicks off mentoring program with Children's Workshop

Birchwood Middle School kicks off mentoring program with Children's Workshop

Birchwood Middle School kicked off its Children's Workshop-sponsored mentor program on Jan. 31 with breakfast and ice breakers. Some of the two dozen participants include, from left, Tara Iadevaia and Brenna Leo, 8th-graders; Stacy Smith, lead teacher in Smithfield; and Leanne Good, teacher assistant in Smithfield. (Breeze photos by Meghan Kavanaugh)

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Birchwood Middle School's mentoring program entered its second year on Jan. 31, when a kickoff event paired up about a dozen students with their mentors from Children's Workshop.

The first day started simply enough last week with an exercise that revealed personality traits associated with a favorite chocolate bar.

Next was a playful game of "Would You Rather," when about 20 students and adults chose between situations like wearing multi-colored pigtails to graduation or cleaning the house for an entire month.

The hope is that as students and mentors get past ice breakers, they will develop a positive relationship that will help students find guidance through middle school and beyond.

School social worker Elizabeth Vachon facilitates the program with Children's Workshop Director of Parent and Community Relations Kelli DiDomenico, a former Birchwood student herself.

Vachon said a typical day can mean seeing 30 to 50 students in her office to talk about a variety of different issues ranging from academic to social.

The Children's Workshop-sponsored mentor program ensures structured meetings every two weeks for the selected group of students and their mentors, who are all paired based on interests. DiDomenico has taken the active role in coordinating the program, something Vachon called "a gift from God."

"It takes a village," she said. "I'm trying to create more of a village is what I'm doing."

Last year, the program was conducted using North Providence High School seniors as mentors. By having community members fill that role this year, Vachon is hoping the relationships can continue for the students at least throughout their three years at the middle school.

"I honestly think middle school is the toughest time for most kids," said Vachon, who has been working with this age group for 16 years.

Children's Workshop is a Cumberland-based early learning facility that has also organized a mentoring program at Central Falls High School for the past four years.

DiDomenico said the program has been proven to increase attendance and improve behavior and students' attitudes about school.

"We're trying to give the kids a positive adult role model," she said, adding that mentors encourage students to get more involved with academic clubs and extracurricular activities.

Topics covered each week will include bullying and substance abuse, but the goal is really just to allow the student to bond with an adult who can serve as a neutral sounding board.

"It's just that relationship," DiDomenico said, noting that there is no special training required to mentor.

Jenny Sousa, a Children's Workshop assistant director, mentors at CFHS. She helps students with resumes and she has helped teen moms find help and supplies.

"It's such a great feeling," Sousa said. "You can leave happy that you've done something."

Birchwood Middle School started its mentor program, sponsored by Children's Workshop, last week, when 7th-grader Sarah Romano met with Sue Sullivan, director of the center in Riverside.
Organizing the mentor program at Birchwood Middle School are, from left, Kelli DiDomenico, Children's Workshop director of parent and community relations; Jenny Sousa, Children's Workshop assistant director in Central Falls; and Elizabeth Vachon, Birchwood Middle School social worker.