Denair Unified School District is looking for community members who want to “be someone who matters for someone who matters” — the main idea behind a mentorship program set to begin early next year.
The goal of the program, according to DUSD Superintendent Terry Metzger, is to identify community volunteers willing to meet one-on-one for an hour each week with a student. The program will be overseen by Sierra Vista Child & Family Services, which recently placed a full-time mental health clinician within the district on behalf of Legacy Health Endowment. This is how the program was brought to Denair, Metzger said.
“Legacy Health Endowment is particularly interested in supporting students who are struggling with anxiety and depression, which seems to affect a large number of students in our community,” she said. “Through that conversation, we learned that Sierra Vista also has an established mentoring program in Modesto City Schools that we felt could be replicated here in Denair.”
The mentoring program focuses on students who don’t have the level of need for clinical services from Sierra Vista, Metzger added, but who may still need support.
“It’s really for students who just need a bit of extra TLC, or someone to help them figure out how to navigate school or life,” Metzger said. “Sometimes students want to talk through problems they are having, but sometimes they just want to talk about their interests.”
She has already reached out to local service clubs and received positive responses, and said that anyone who is interested in seeing a young person become a success should consider mentoring. Metzger has heard from mentors elsewhere who say they love the genuine friendship that is formed with the student, restoring their faith in young people.
“It doesn’t take any special skills, just a genuine heart, a listening ear and a commitment to one hour per week,” she said. “Our time is our most precious commodity and choosing to spend it with a young person means they are important.”
The program is an extension of a larger mental health pilot program that began this fall, also in collaboration with Sierra Vista. A full-time mental health clinician is stationed at Denair Middle School to work with students and their families from all DUSD campuses.
The program is funded by the Legacy Health Endowment, whose mission is to provide financial and technical support to improve the health of people living in Stanislaus and Merced counties. The nonprofit was created in 2014 as part of Tenet Healthcare’s acquisition of Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock.
One of Legacy Health’s grants funds a program directed by Sierra Vista that focuses on the mental health of people living in southeastern Stanislaus County. Research by Sierra Vista shows that some children and teens in the area can be adversely affected by their socioeconomic status or rural living conditions.
During a presentation to the DUSD Board of Trustees last week, Metzger used a hypothetical example to describe how the mentoring program and mental health access might overlap.
“A high school student suffering from depression might see the clinician, but his or her sibling who need someone to talk to might see the mentors,” she said.
Informational meetings for potential mentors are scheduled for noon on Jan. 10 and at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 15 at the Denair administration office, 3460 Lester Road. All mentors will undergo a background check and screening conducted by Sierra Vista, which will also provide training. Weekly meetings between mentors and students will be held during school hours on the child’s campus, and students from all grade levels and mentors will be matched based on teacher referrals and Sierra Vista’s expertise.
“The world is a tough place for a lot of our students. At very young ages they have seen, heard and dealt with things that I didn’t even know existed when I was their age,” Metzger said. “It’s hard to learn when you’re worried about things at home or the people you love. If we provide support for kids to learn effective and appropriate coping mechanisms, we can help them build a path to long-term success, which ultimately benefits everyone.”