PUBLISHED: 5:01 PM on Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Big Brothers Big Sisters program focuses on school partnerships
An hour a week. It could mean a student half as likely to start using drugs, one-third less likely to hit, one-quarter less likely to start drinking and half as likely to miss a day of school.

Those statistics, compiled by Public-Private Ventures, are what Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Alaska is hoping the community will notice. The agency is kicking off its sixth year of school-based mentoring in Juneau, with a new initiative aimed at local workers.

"We're creating new partnerships with businesses, Native and non-profit organizations and government agencies," said Marc Wheeler, BBBS executive director. "Our partners will encourage and support their employees who want to volunteer one hour a week to be a friend to a local elementary or middle school student."

The goal for the current school year is to match 160 students in all of Juneau's public elementary and middle schools with school mentors or "Bigs." Last year, BBBS matched 105 Juneau students with mentors.

"We're excited to work with local businesses and organizations to bring more community members into the classroom," Wheeler said. "Besides having an impact on a child, volunteering as a School Big is a fun and rewarding experience for the adult."

"So far, we've had a very encouraging response from local businesses and agencies," said Betsy Brenneman, new BBBS director of partnership development. "They see the value of their employees' involvement in community service, especially something as direct and meaningful as mentoring a child."

Brenneman is coordinating the school initiative with Emily Clark, school program coordinator.

School Bigs visit with their "Littles" at their school one hour a week at a time mutually agreeable to the teacher and the adult volunteer. School Bigs and Littles often play board games or read together, talk, laugh, eat lunch, head for the playground, or work on school assignments. The matches are created and supported throughout the school year by BBBS staff members.

Juneau teacher surveys from the 2004-2005 school year showed 75 percent of students matched with school Bigs had improved academic performance and 80 percent had an improved attitude toward school.