December 2010

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BrainWise is creating a real buzz at Colorado High School Charter in Denver using an innovative approach to teach high-risk teens critical thinking skills to help them make responsible decisions. To reinforce the lessons they have learned in the classroom, students are being paired with two BrainWise trained mentors. BrainWise has been part of the curriculum at Colorado High School Charter, a Denver Public School authorized charter school, for four years. Students learn BrainWise skills in the classroom and reinforce it with an online BrainWise course. This year, thanks to a grant from the Adolph Coors Foundation, fourteen CHSC students were matched with mentors who are BrainWise-trained volunteers. The mentors are predominantly Rotarians from the Denver Mile High Rotary Club, the Sky High Rotary Club, and the Denver Metro Rotaract Club (Rotary club for professionals under 30 years of age).

Each mentee is assigned two mentors who meet with the student at the school once per month. In the interim, the mentors send random weekly text messages, reminding the student to use BrainWise thinking skills. A typical text might say, “Remember to use your Wizard Brain, with a note of encouragement to attend school on time. Other messages may center on Wise Ways that the student has identified as helpful. During the week, especially if a mentee is going through a difficult time, CHSC teacher and Master BrainWise instructor Dell Brooks can cue mentors regarding issues that arise with students, good times to contact students, and even might suggest which of the 10 Wise Ways would be most relevant or meaningful to the student. “Mentoring has been shown to encourage behavioral change in other areas,” Brooks said, “and appears to be effective when it comes to making positive life choices.”

According to BrainWise founder and director Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry, “The 10 Wise Ways are like learning the alphabet. It takes practice to learn how to use the letters to read, and it takes practice to use the Wise Ways to learn critical thinking skills. Mr. Brooks is teaching BrainWise skills in the classroom, and students are reinforcing these lessons with a BrainWise online course. The mentor program provides students with additional support.” Dr. Barry explained that the Rotary/Teen Mentoring dynamic is unique, and allows for a high quality of mentor, since the overall obligation is manageable for professionals with demanding schedules. “The time commitment is much smaller than a ‘Big Brother/Big Sister’ type relationship,” Barry said. “Older teens are a population least served by mentors but arguably the most in need of a supportive adult. Additionally, high quality mentors are hard to get and retain, mainly because they are busy people; so the question is how do you make this successful?”

The answer is three-fold, Barry explained. “First, BrainWise is the foundation for the mentor/mentee relationship. With BrainWise, both mentor and mentee are on the same page. That way, mentors can reinforce familiar concepts using a medium that is a norm for the kids,” Barry said. “Second, by assigning two mentors per student, we guarantee that the mentee will be contacted. For this pilot project, some of the older mentors had not used text messaging, and we were able to pair them with a partner who could show them how to use it. Two mentors also means that a person with a busy schedule or a job that required travel had a ‘back-up’ who made sure that contact with the mentee would be kept. And third, the addition of texting tells the mentee that the mentors are thinking about him or her and want the mentee to succeed in school.”

According to Brooks, the students who were chosen to participate in the mentoring experiment have responded favorably to receiving the text messages. The BrainWise Mentor Project provides young people with the support of caring adults who want them to graduate from high school and be successful. Students understand this, creating a positive buzz that is attracting more mentors and mentees to the program.