The Fern Creek High School student will be one of 60 juniors and seniors who’ll be trained as mentors to sixth graders from Myers, Carrithers and Newburg middle schools in a new partnership with the University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work and the Exploited Children’s Help Organization.

The aspiring pediatrician brings “definitely wisdom, experience and examples” to the program, “just trying to help them out as much as you can.” Sawyers admitted that she had veered off on the wrong track earlier in her academic life and is working her way back to better grades and a brighter future.

Sawyers and some other Fern Creek mentors attended an announcement Wednesday about the TEAM (Teach, Empower, Affirm, Mentor) project. The two-year project is funded by a $500,000 grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and is the largest of five awarded this year.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who helped support the grant application, discussed the persistent problem of juvenile delinquency stemming from many factors at play in a young person’s life.

“In most all cases they don’t have anyone who is looking out for them,” Yarmuth said.

To have another young person to emulate can show a person a different path. “It’s so important to have somebody who’s a contemporary,” Yarmuth said.

 The mentors also will benefit from this association and learn from “an opportunity to take citizenship to a higher level,” Kent School Dean Terry Singer said.

The Kent team working with ECHO and Jefferson County Public Schools officials are working from a research-based approach, Singer said. The plan is to have success at the community level using the mentor approach and then take it nationally, he said.

ECHO, a private nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to reduce the incidence and impact of child victimization, will conduct some of the training for the mentoring students, said Lucy Lee, executive director. Some topics will include child abuse prevention, Internet safety and bullying, she said.

Lee called child abuse is one of the leading factors in juvenile delinquency. “By educating our youth…we provide children with the knowledge to protect themselves,” she said.

Bibhuti Sar leads the Kent School research team, which will analyze the results of the program through its student participants (both mentors and mentees), families and teachers. Starting this month, the program will extend to the end of the current school year and then resume with a more intensive program for the 2012-13 school year.

“If the kids are better connected to their schools, their view about their capabilities will be different,” Sar said.

Dawn Roseberry, coordinator for the Youth Connections Services Center at Fern Creek High and Carrithers Middle, called the transition between middle and high school “very hard.”

“Any kind of help they can get with that transition from one who’s been through it…They listen,” Roseberry said. “They can see the benefits if they are paired with someone who has been there. It’s reachable, it’s attainable and they go for it.”

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Judy Hughes
Judy Hughes is a communications and marketing specialist for UofL’s Office of Communications and Marketing, where she works in media relations and contributes to news about the university’s College of Arts and Sciences and Kent School of Social Work. She previously worked in news as a writer and editor for a daily newspaper and The Associated Press.