3Degrees Mentoring is committed to finding creative solutions that improve the academic, as well as socioemotional, lives of children in poverty. We know that generational poverty and lack of positive, adult interaction are major hindrances to student success. Research has shown that one caring, committed adult relationship can improve a student's depression symptoms, academic performance, self-worth, school attendance, peer relations, and decision making. With a long term investment, a mentor can show a child the way out of poverty.
Nearly thirty percent of children in Spartanburg are in poverty. A large number of them a live in some of our city's most high crime neighborhoods. Daily, these kids are battling the chronic stress and chaos of poverty. It affects their development on every level. The local school's academic performance reflects this. Out of the 639 schools in South Carolina, it ranked 633rd, in the bottom 1%. On the state report card, the school scored a 36% and was found to be at-risk, the worst possible outcome.
Eight out of ten first graders at this partner school are unable to meet grade level standards. The principal has asked us to find mentors for them. We take this charge very seriously. Our mentors receive extensive training in evidence-based methods designed to improve reading and math skills, executive function, self-regulation, and motor skills. Though each mentoring relationship starts with a two year commitment, we seek as a primary goal to encourage and support the matches to continue throughout the student's academic career.
The 3Degrees mentoring model is innovative: We focus on matching children under 8 years old with mentors because the greatest strides in brain development happen during this stage. We also compound the educational and social impact by recruiting whole families into the mentoring program when possible, thus encouraging activities that are not only one on one, but that incorporate pictures of family interaction, marriage, peer group play, and after school homework time into the achiever's experience. Finally, we stay up to date with the most current research and educate our mentors on ways to incorporate it. For example, we teach the vital concepts of agency (or self-determination) and growth-mindset; we integrate the arts with many events and use physical activity as a way to connect.
First, children are nominated by their teachers as needing additional support, then parents must agree to have their children participate. Over the summer, the nominated students (we refer to them as achievers) are enrolled in our fun and free enrichment camp. There they gain an understanding our core values, engage in activities that stimulate brain development, practice social skills and reading, and have memorable experiences that can spark a dream in their heart (Cirque du Soleil, a working farm, learning and participating in photography and storytelling, yoga, cooking and nutrition class, etc.). During this time, mentors are recruited, screened and thoroughly trained on topics previously mentioned (realities of poverty and development, trauma-informed mentoring, communication and asset-based thinking, boundaries, systemic racism, etc.). Mentors and achievers are then matched at a launch party where they get to know each other and begin what we hope will be a life changing friendship for both of them.
We work hard as an organization to known for striving for truth and equality. We seek to change the stereotypical notion that folks struggling with poverty are lacking competence or character. We educate the community as often as possible on asset-based perspective, racism and white privilege, effects of trauma, etc. And we make sure our achievers know that they are STRONG, VALUABLE, capable of LEARNING, and that they DON'T QUIT.