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Building confidence one word at a time

By Carolina Astrain
Nov. 16, 2013 at 5:16 a.m.

University of Houston-Victoria sophomore Ashley Williams, 19, of Victoria, helps Hopkins Elementary School second-grader David Solorio, 7, with his vocabulary as part of the Victoria Business and Education Coalition mentor program.

Want to be a mentor?

Call the Victoria Business and Education Coalition at 361-572-8232.

Ashley Williams waited a few seconds before marking out a word on second-grader David Solorio's vocabulary sheet.

Williams, a University of Houston-Victoria sophomore, volunteers her time once a week to help Hopkins Elementary School students with their reading and comprehension skills.

"I had a mentor when I was growing up, and they helped me a lot," the 19-year-old said. "So I felt like I should be able to help out one of these kids."

Williams is one of 50 students at UHV mentoring Victoria school district students this year through the Victoria Business and Education Coalition and Victoria's Helping One Student to Succeed, or H.O.S.T.S., program.

David, 7, went through a series of vocabulary words, with Williams marking the ones he hesitated on, before the timer went off.

Felicia Sledge, the Hopkins H.O.S.T.S. program coordinator and instructor, said for students, learning how to say the words is the first part of the puzzle.

The program is split into three different components: reading, vocabulary and comprehension.

"And all of those things put together make a good reader," Sledge said. "So what we try to do is we split it up and break it into those components, so as students learn new vocabulary words, they learn what to do with those words."

When the program first started at Hopkins in 2007, the campus had 55 mentors; this year, Hopkins has 100 volunteers mentoring 32 students.

Sledge is one of two full-time employees dedicated to the H.O.S.T.S. program at Hopkins, which is supported by Title I funding.

"They're not just people who realize they have a problem or that the students need help," Sledge said. "They look at Hopkins children as not just Hopkins children but as Victoria's children."

Peter McNally, VBEC executive director, said the free shuttle service the university provides helps students get to the six different Victoria campuses the program serves.

"It's convenient," Williams said. "And we just got it updated to where they take us to the YMCA and just about wherever we need to go."

Patti Welder Middle School, Stroman Middle School, Victoria East High School, Victoria West High School and the Mitchell Guidance Center are all part of the VBEC program.

"We have eight students that go on the bus; some of them take their own cars," McNally said. "If we could get more people to mentor at the same time, it would work out better."

Some of the university students who mentor are part of UHV's School of Education, which has incorporated the mentoring program as part of its classwork, McNally said.

In total, VBEC has 250 active mentors across the six different campuses this year, McNally said.

Williams said in the past, she's noticed some university students sign up and then stop showing up completely.

"Without telling anybody, they just stopped coming," Williams said. "But as far as I know this year, everybody's been coming and sticking to their volunteering, so hopefully, everybody can finish the year without just up and leaving because it's not really fair to the school or the student."

After a while, Williams said, the impact a mentor makes on a student can be tremendous.

"It may not seem like it while you're doing it, but as time goes on, and they really get to know you, you can tell they appreciate it," Williams said.

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