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Schools train mentors to aid truant pupils

– Eileen Klemm stood at the head of a South Side High School classroom filled with a few dozen students.

Only Klemm, who works for the University of Minnesota, wasn’t dropping knowledge on teenagers.

She was training a fresh crop of adults to be mentors to teens – especially the ones who have trouble making it to school.

“What is and what is not the role of a mentor?” Klemm asked the class Wednesday. “Let’s do a large group activity, take a minute or two to share.”

Klemm was in Fort Wayne as part of a Check and Connect program that is being put into place at the Fort Wayne Community and East Allen County school districts.

She will be training mentors through today, and then these mentors will be placed in several high schools in the fall.

They’ll be working with kids who fail to get to school – for whatever reason – or who show up late.

School officials said three mentors will be placed in each high school, with the idea of bolstering attendance as well as graduation rates.

“It almost goes without saying that a high school diploma is so vital to the future of these young people, and to our community, that we have to do whatever we can to keep them engaged in education,” said Allen Superior Court Judge Dan Heath, who helped spearhead the movement to bring the program here.

The program is being partially funded by a $42,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Correction. Probation user fees are also being used to offset costs.

No taxpayer dollars are being put into the program.

Fort Wayne Community Schools has used similar mentors in three of its high schools for the past year, according to Faye Williams-Robbins, the secondary assistant superintendent for the district.

In that time, truancy has dropped at those high schools, she said.

Still, there are students who work jobs late into the night, or who just stay up late, and never make it to school or show up late.

And with more mentors to help the ones already in place, the tide might turn even more, officials hope.

“We’re seeing some gains,” Williams-Robbins said.