A 'transformational' initiative
Big Sky School District to double guidance office
By Barbara Rowley
BIG SKY – The Big Sky School District is poised to more than double the staff dedicated to guidance, professional and academic counseling services this fall, thanks to the strong conviction of the district that these are areas that have needed more attention in the past.
“We’ve heard from parents and community members in our facilitated community meetings that better two-way communication between parents and the school, and more involvement of the community in the school, were strong priorities,” Superintendent Jerry House said. “Now, due to the board’s dedication and the creativity and generosity of several nonprofits, I think everyone will see us address these issues in very real, visible ways.”
Starting this fall, the district has increased its budget to accommodate a full-time guidance counselor as well as a half-time coordinator dedicated to placing high school students in professional settings as part of their capstone projects.
In addition, the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation is funding a half-time coordinator of the CAP Mentor program, who will coordinate the placement and matching of adult mentors with students during the school day. Finally, Women In Action, with support from the Rapier Family Foundation, will fund the Parent Liaison program in the district, a program that helps improve and streamline communication between parents, teachers and students. The Bozeman nonprofit, Thrive, hires and oversees the CAP and Parent Liaison coordinators; both positions are currently open.
All told, the four positions more than double the guidance office staff, while only adding a little more than one half-time salary.
“The additional positions will support the work our new guidance counselor Leah Johnson does with students’ academic, social and emotional lives, as well as better connect administration and teachers, and finally the community with the school,” House said.
Because the new high school has a limited vocational curriculum, the Capstone coordinator will be able to fill this gap by placing students in real-world professional environments. CAP mentors will support teachers in addressing the needs of students during the school day. The Parent Liaison program will help keep teacher/parent/student communication and relationships healthy and strong.
House believes the new programs and staffing will ultimately be seen as “a blessing” for all involved. By the end of next year, he predicts the school will see record involvement of community members and businesses, greater satisfaction with the school from teachers and staff, and a much-improved environment for students.
“I believe in these programs,” he said. “I think this is going to be transformational.”
CAP mentor program to launch in Big Sky
BIG SKY – Odds are, even in Big Sky, you know or have heard of someone who is a CAP Mentor in Bozeman. After all, the 20-year old mentor program places 552 mentoring matches (and 542 mentors) in schools one hour every week of the school year, and operates in every school in the Bozeman district.
But what is a CAP Mentor, and what are they doing with their hour? CAP stands for Child Advancement Project, and the program matches adults with students based on social, academic or enrichment needs for one hour a week during the school day.
The mentorship program is highly individualized and each match is made based on interests and abilities of both mentor and student, according to Vanessa Skelton, program manager for Thrive, the nonprofit behind the Bozeman CAP program.
“It might be social, academic, or enrichment,” Skelton said. “I know one mentor who worked with a high school girl who didn’t have a lot of support for college. They spent their time together working on college applications and funding. Other mentors might work on long-term art or science projects with their match, or simply play math games, read together or even just talk.”
The program plays to the participants’ strengths, Skelton says.
“Many matches are made to help enrich the talents kids already possess, matching an artistic child with an artist, or helping offer challenge to a kid who spends his days breezing through school.”
The right match is crucial, she says, which is why Thrive has half-time CAP coordinators in each school, dedicated to finding, training and monitoring mentor matches, as well as taking nominations from teachers and parents for kids who might benefit from a mentor. The program is so popular that many kids even nominate themselves.
Even with 542 mentors, there are always more kids who want mentors than CAP mentors available.
Part of the reason the program has been so successful is its convenience for mentors, Skelton said. It doesn't operate during weekends or evenings, and many mentors use their lunch hour to volunteer. The coordinator works with mentor and teacher to make sure the hour for the CAP program doesn’t interfere with class time.
Despite the minimal time requirement, the impact on mentor and mentee is enormous, and more than one Bozeman match has lasted a child’s entire academic career.
The CAP program in Big Sky is searching for a half-time coordinator to be based in the Big Sky School District. Once hired, the coordinator will begin working to find and match mentors and mentees immediately. For information, check out the job announcement at allthrive.org.