PEP hires student mentors for young children

By M. Scott Morris | NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Students were paid to help other students as part of a mentor program during the fall semester.
The Performance Enrichment Program hired high-performing high school students to work with kids from third to sixth grades at schools in Lee, Pontotoc, Chickasaw and Calhoun counties.
“We’re trying to do something about the dropout rate,” said Bill Renick, director of the Workforce Investment Act Division of Three Rivers Planning and Development District. “The earlier we get them, the better.”
PEP was aimed at kids who were already doing well in school in an effort to help them do better, Renick said. About 60 students, mentors, teachers and organizers met at Itawamba Community College’s Belden Center on Wednesday to celebrate the program’s achievements.
Mentors like Casey Ferguson, an 18-year-old senior from Pontotoc High School, spent an hour a day after school from Monday to Thursday teaching math skills.
“My very first day I started with five kids,” Ferguson said. “It was nerve-wracking.”
He had planned to become an engineer, but now hopes to be a teacher.
“It helped me decide what I really want to do,” he said.
Connie Finnie of Shannon has noticed changes in her daughter, Contaja Finnie, a sixth-grader at Shannon Middle School.
“Her math teacher came to tell me that her class participation was off the charts,” Finnie said. “Every time there was a question, her hand was up.”
The program was funded by a $50,000 grant from the CREATE Foundation and a $100,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The student mentors were paid $900 over the 12-week program. More than 90 mentors worked with about 900 students at 15 schools, and adults were paid to be lead tutors at each school.
scott.morris@journalinc.com