One caring adult can make a difference in a young person's life, the saying goes.
That's the philosophy City Council President Sheila Dixon has embraced with the Young Women in Action Girls Mentoring Program, a new initiative targeting girls at six Baltimore middle schools.
About 60 girls from each school will be chosen to participate in volunteer-led workshops addressing issues that include peer pressure, conflict resolution, health and dating. Pupils eventually will be paired with mentors from the community.
"Middle school is a crucial age and time," Dixon said yesterday. "In a lot of cases, young people don't have people in their lives on a consistent basis. ... They don't have anybody giving them positive feedback to help them meet the dreams and goals they want to accomplish in life."
The program, intended to enhance existing mentoring projects in city schools, initially will be funded with $11,400 from the Mayor's Office for Children, Youth and Families, said Dixon, who is to announce the initiative today at Garrison Middle School. Other participating schools are Booker T. Washington Middle School, Canton Middle School, Harlem Park Middle School, Highlandtown Middle School and Thurgood Marshall Middle School.
Pupils likely will attend workshops during lunch or in lieu of electives such as art or gym. Recruitment for mentors is under way, with the help of community organizations such as Partners in Progress, Dixon said.
Organizers are unfurling the initiative at a time when girls and young women are the fastest-growing population in the juvenile and criminal justice system nationwide, said Marian Daniel, program manager at Baltimore's Department of Juvenile Services and an adviser on the school-based project.
"Our young girls now need more. They need people in their lives more than ever," Daniel said. "The younger we start with our kids to help them develop into positive young women by having positive role models for them, the more successful they can be."
The challenge will be rounding up an adequate number of mentors and ensuring they stay committed, Daniel said. "Dropping in and out of young people's lives is not good for them," she said. "Our kids have been disappointed enough."
Dixon hopes to measure the program's effectiveness by tracking participants' academic and attendance records as well as suspension and expulsion rates. She envisions triggering a mentoring chain, recruiting successful high school students and even sending middle school children to help in elementary schools.
"I think both young men and young women need to be helped and inspired," said Veronica Dixon, principal of Highlandtown Middle School. "My feeling about any mentoring program is that if it helps the children, I'm happy to see it."