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Commentary: Hall mentorship program places top students with business leaders

POSTED: March 20, 2011 12:30 a.m.
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Kathy Mellette

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Words simply cannot describe the emotions that swept over me as I watched 46 of the Hall County Schools' Honors Mentorship Program students, future teachers, statesmen, nurses, doctors, ministers, engineers and more entering the Georgia governor's mansion being warmly greeted by first lady Sandra Deal.

The impact and the significance that a couple from Hall County is serving our state as the 82nd governor and first lady, was felt by all of us. During our recent visit with Mrs. Deal, she discussed their theme, "With a Servant's Heart," reminding me of the power of service and the interconnectedness of community. There is an old saying, that a string of wool alone can not accomplish it, but weave them together and you have a tapestry.

I have the privilege, along with Jennifer Killingsworth, of coordinating the Honors Mentorship Program - the most scholarly of the Hall County School System's excellent career-oriented high school courses. HMP is an academic elective designed to remove the learning ceiling for high-ability students who are intensely interested in a particular area of study and who have demonstrated the maturity to pursue in-depth learning in a professional setting.

Gifted and other highly motivated juniors and seniors are placed with professionals in career fields that the students hope to pursue. In the four years of this program's existence, students have mentored with physicians, nurses, lawyers, teachers, worship leaders, writers, engineers and a host of other professionals who have invested in the lives of teenagers, leaving their legacy of leadership and influence on the future.

Our students gain skills for successful careers, develop critical thinking and problem-solving, learn first hand about collaboration across networks and leading by influence, initiative and entrepreneurism. This type of authentic learning cultivates effective oral and written communication and sparks curiosity.

Ultimately, I believe our program helps to build active, concerned, and informed citizens who ensure strong communities in the future. Currently more than 50 students, from all six of the county high schools, are learning outside the classroom with professionals who are consistently providing authentic learning opportunities that cannot be matched within the walls of our schools. In most cases, words from the students and the mentors both describe their participation as life changing and unique.

HMP mentors experience the deep satisfaction that comes from helping a young person to explore a profession that they have always wanted to pursue but don't know much about. Our mentors truly exemplify the "servant's heart" that Gov. and Mrs. Deal are so committed to. Imagine the satisfaction Dr. Bill Thomas feels knowing he helped Jillian Wilms be successful at Georgia Tech, earning a degree in chemistry, fulfilling a life long dream. Now in her junior year, she is currently interning with a chemical company in Texas.

The Times has mentored several HMP students interested in journalism; just imagine the pride and sense of accomplishment students gain seeing their work published in their community's paper. Meaningful, authentic, real-world learning experiences encourage self images and positive learning identities while developing students' gifts and talents helping to ensure success in college and in life.

In addition to their mentoring five hours per week, students have opportunities to conduct research and create products that exemplify the unique experiences they have had in their chosen fields of study.

Emphasis is on autonomous learning and authentic intellectual work. The culminating research projects and products are shared with real audiences in a professional manner.

To cite a few, Olivia DeLong, an aspiring actress and dancer mentored with an English and drama teacher at Da Vinci, a Hall County middle school. Olivia was able to observe a dynamic, effective teacher while helping provide true expertise as a dancer, choreographer and actress. Olivia choreographed and directed the school's spring musical, Dear Edwina confirming her goal that theater is her calling.

Jesus Castrejon mentored with a pathologist becoming ‘infected' with an interest in microbiology. He studied methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in depth and created a bilingual brochure he distributed to students and families in his high school, and did a presentation at his schools' focus on health care day. In addition, Jesus expanded his knowledge of MRSA and its prevention by studying the cleaning products and methods of the Hall County Schools. These findings were presented to the Hall County School Board. These are just two examples of student projects reflecting the synergy of HMP and our community.

I have glimpsed the unique tapestry of Gainesville and Hall County and find it to be one of unity and togetherness, comprised of threads of individuals from a variety of ages, races and faiths; from businesses, industries, government, schools, nonprofit and civic organizations, all of which are equally important in weaving a tapestry that reflects the uniqueness, yet connectedness, of a varied people.

Kathy Mellette is one of the coordinators, along with Jennifer Killingsworth, of the Hall County Honors Mentorship Program. She also teaches at North Hall Middle School.



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