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Innovative mentoring makes a difference

JMU alumna Kimberly Taylor ('79) has worked to ensure student success
By Jessica Lewis ('08)


JMU early childhood education major, Kimberly Taylor ('79), is a 29-year education veteran.

East Millsboro Elementary School counselor Kimberly Taylor ('79), a former JMU early childhood education major, is a 29-year education veteran. Her innovative mentoring programs have won attention and praise, but most importantly to Kim, the programs have ensured the best chance for success of hundreds of students. In this interview with Jessica Lewis ('08), for Be the Change, Taylor talks about her educational and mentoring experiences.

Lewis: How did you go about creating your first mentoring program?

Taylor: I used an eclectic approach. I contacted other school mentoring coordinators who had successful mentoring programs and implemented many effective ideas. I also researched mentoring resources and ordered various materials.

When creating my first mentoring program Positive Connections in 1998, I contacted the local electric power company and made a presentation eliciting their involvement. Many employees attended training and became dedicated mentors who made a positive difference in the lives of at-risk students.

At the end of the school year, we celebrated the success of the program with an educational field trip to the electric power plant. An appreciation party was held after the trip to honor the mentors and to share everything they meant to the students. The students read appreciation letters to their mentors, shared gifts, cards, artwork, banners and posters and enjoyed refreshments with their mentors. The connection was definitely positive!

Lewis: What is the most difficult part of organizing multiple groups of volunteers?

Taylor: The most difficult part is developing a schedule that does not interfere with academic learning time. Due to academic accountability issues with meeting state standards, I am careful to schedule mentoring during non-academic periods. Also mentoring matches can be a challenge. It is critical to collect as much information about the mentor and student so that it can be an effective match.

Lewis: Do you feel your James Madison University education helped you prepare for your current role in Positive Connections?

Taylor: My JMU education emphasized meeting the developmental needs of children. The lasting impact of that educational movement is reflected throughout my mentoring program. The program is based on meeting the social, emotional, academic and physical needs of the child. If those needs are met, then it has been proven that the child will be more successful and have a higher self-esteem. Thank you JMU!

Lewis: What is the most memorable moment of your involvement in mentoring programs?

Taylor: There have been many memorable moments over the last 10 years of the Positive Connections Mentoring Program and other mentoring efforts.

I will always remember the first year of developing our peer-mentoring program, Pilot to Co-Pilot, where approximately 50 fourth and fifth graders mentor kindergarten, first, second and third grade at-risk students. The first year this program started the feedback was extremely positive, and I immediately saw the benefits of student role models. At the end of the year, a peer mentor's parent called me and wanted to thank me for giving her son an opportunity to be like a big brother to a student in need. She explained that she could not have any more children and her son was given an instant chance to have a "little brother" in the student he mentored. The benefits go both ways in these relationships. I will never forget that emotional phone call.

Lewis: Do you have plans to expand these projects? If so, in what directions?

Taylor: I tend to "think big" so I continue to work toward recruitment of mentors from our community. My next hope and goal is to create a partnership with the local colleges. College employees and students would make wonderful mentors with much to offer the students.

Another goal is to continue to achieve 100 percent participation by our school staff serving as mentors for our students.

At the end of the year we have a mentoring appreciation picnic and carnival. Each year we attempt to make it bigger and better with inflatables, bands, and appearance by Miss Delaware, clowns, artists, karate instructors, organized sports, relay races, arts and crafts, food and games, etc. My goal is to make this year's celebration one that the mentors and students will always remember!

Lewis: Were you inspired by anyone particular in your endeavors?

Taylor: Gary Brittingham, my past principal, was instrumental in motivating me to create our mentoring program. He believed in me and always inspired me to be the best I could be.

The students also inspire me every day. The passion I have for my career and the love I have for children motivate me to constantly create new ideas to enhance our mentoring program.

About the Interviewer
Jessica Lewis ('08) interned for JMU's "Be the Change" communications campaign and is now a writer.