by Robert Scalia
At first glance, Zumrat only faintly seemed a student at risk. Her marks
were decent, she was highly motivated and she beamed with positivity,
but the 15-year-old spoke little French and no English.
She was also extremely shy, leaving administrators at Lavoie High School,
in Côte des Neiges, worried that her marks might suffer once she
was placed in a regular class.
Prometheus volunteer Tania Ash figures it was their third meeting last
winter before her protegé finally opened up to her.
Over the next 10 weeks, Zumrat spoke of her schooling back in Turkmenistan.
She spoke of her father wishing she would wear her traditional Muslim
headscarf. In moments of awkward silence, they made friendship bracelets.
She loved the bracelets, recalled Ash, now studying early
childhood education at Concordia. [They] helped her make friends
in class. She was feeling better about herself.
One in every three high school students isnt so lucky. The latest
statistics reveal that 6,000 students drop out of high school across Quebec
Tackling this challenge has been the Prometheus Projects goal since
1992. The non-profit organization is now eyeing Concordia, hoping to recruit
more volunteer mentors to extend its reach across the city.
Our students need role models. Thats what mentoring is all
about, explained Ginette Sauvé, the groups executive
director, and university students, because they have succeeded through
high school and CEGEP, make excellent examples of perseverance.
While successful, Prometheus needs funds, she said. We are already
performing miracles with the little money we have. This includes
paying psychologists for mentor evaluations and training, as well as protégé
follow-ups all without any government funding.
Sauvé sent about 100 mentors into 12 high schools last year, and
noted that we have yet to break up a pair. She is approaching
universities to diversify her pool of mentors, mainly firemen and employees
of private donors, like Costco and Air Canada.
Prometheus representatives set up a booth in the Hall Building recently,
and have contacted professors and classes. The group has certainly got
Rosemary Reillys attention.
The professor of applied human science said it may be possible to set
up a stage for those of her students who are interested in mentoring,
provided they could work in teams, a necessity in the human-relations
Traditionally, [mentoring] was used to facilitate the growth and
development of bright lights. Now, people see it as an effective method
for those who have been turned off by education.
Teachers, parents overburdened
Reillys work in nursery and elementary schools has given her insight
into what can go wrong in high school. She believes that overburdened
teachers and parents sometimes flatten a childs confidence just
by saying the wrong thing. I have never seen a child come to a learning
situation with anything other than enthusiasm and wonder, but these kids
are sometimes met with messages like, Youre wrong. Youre
stupid. Your answer is different.
Student mentor Ash connected with Zumrat by allowing her to help train
her speckled Dalmation, and distinguish Turkey from Turkmenistan on a
map. The role-playing sessions, conversations with Zumrats teachers
Being paired with the right protegé was part of the projects
success, too. Were it not for her four-year sojourn in Morocco, Ash would
never have been able to write Zumrats name in Arabic and make that