September 2011

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Texting is getting a bum rap lately, especially when it leads to distraction on the road. However, texting can also be a powerful tool for providing support and ongoing encouragement to at-risk students such as the participants in the BrainWise program at Colorado High School Charter (CHSC) in Denver. BrainWise founder and director Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry says texting is a unique way to strengthen the BrainWise training CHSC students receive in school each day.

BrainWise has forged a unique arrangement that encourages local business leaders to invest in personal growth of at-risk teens by becoming volunteer mentors to students at CHSC. Using the common terminology of BrainWise, mentors reach their protégés through weekly text messages and monthly visits to the school. Texts are generally brief notes that help the student remember to apply thinking skills to whatever situation the student may be facing. This novel approach brings high-level mentors who can support students in program completion, confidence building, and transitioning to further education or into the workforce.

The texting component of the mentoring program appeals to busy professionals who have valuable experience and knowledge to share, but are limited in the amount of time they have available to volunteer. “I am a firm believer in giving back to the community, but I have a very full schedule,” says one mentor. “My mentee and I have specific thinking skills that we focus on, so when she is facing a tough situation, I can respond quickly with a text to her that says, ‘Remember to stay low on your Emotions Elevator.’”

Now in its second year of the mentorship program at CHSC, BrainWise has learned ways to support and encourage mentors. For instance, two mentors are assigned to each student to accommodate busy schedules and ensure coverage at the monthly mentor/mentee meeting. Mentors receive BrainWise training and terminology, as well as a sheet of examples of what to text to the student so that there is a “common language” of concepts and expressions from which they can frame their discussions.

In addition, according to Dr. Barry, “The mentors are not psychologists, social workers or buddies to the students. They are there to support the students in getting to school on time and graduating.” Outside of those parameters, mentors can encourage the students to learn how to make use of their “Constellation of Support,” and access resources at CHSC who can help them.

This year, a national standardized test will be administered to all CHSC students at the beginning and end of the mentorship program. The test, called Behavior Research Inventory of Executive Functions, or BRIEF, will measure changes in decision making by the students. Dr. Barry is optimistic the testing will show that BrainWise thinking skills, reinforced by the mentorship program at CHSC, will show positive results. “Based on anecdotal stories from last year we know BrainWise does make changes, but this will give us hard data,” Dr. Barry said.