Provo Youth Mentoring offers children a university experience

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Volunteer mentors tour the BYU stadium with their students. (Provo Youth Mentoring)

The Y-Serve office might just be a small room in the Wilkinson Center for many BYU students, but for school children involved in Provo Youth Mentoring, the service can be life-changing.

When Cora Barrett was an undergrad at BYU, there was a small program that bussed Provo school kids to the BYU law school to do homework with the law students once a week.

“I did it as an internship,” Barrett said. “I ended up staying. They hired me on after, and I just kept thinking, ‘there are so many things on campus that would benefit these kids.’”

For the first few years, Provo Youth Mentoring hosted Timpanogos Elementary School students who learned more about attending college at the Marriott School of Business.

“At the time, their graduation rate was lower,” Barrett said. “I went to the school and talked to the kids, and I asked them, ‘Do you know anyone that has gone to college?’ And not one of them raised their hand. Finally, one little girl said, ‘I think our teacher went to college’. Then I felt really strongly that this was the school.”

After a few years, Barrett’s program was more established and able to gather funding and grants to expand the program beyond the business school. She has now been bussing elementary school children to visit the university and interact with BYU students for 19 years.

Provo Youth Mentoring now has two separate programs. In the first, kids from local elementary schools come once a week to hang out with student volunteers. Past activities have included playing games together at the Wilkinson Center, and a scavenger hunt at the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum.

“The students have really good attendance on Fridays because they want to come to campus,” Barret said. “They can’t come unless all of their assignments are turned in, so they’re really motivated to get all of their schoolwork done.”

The school children are asked to complete a survey before and after the program on their interest in attending a university in the future. There is always a large increase in positive responses.

“They get comfortable on a college campus,” Barrett said. “They realize a degree is something they can accomplish, and what it has to offer them.”

For the second program, Provo Youth Mentoring partners with elementary schools like Provo Peaks elementary. After completing a background check, BYU volunteers can sign up to be a mentor to a specific child that a teacher has recommended and visit them weekly at the elementary school for about an hour. This time is spent tutoring, reading together or just talking.

According to Barrett, the Provo City School District believes that the number one thing Provo needs in its community is mentor programs in their schools.

Chandler Nelson, a BYU economics graduate, participated in the on-campus program during his senior year.

“I felt like the program offers a great opportunity to increase engagement with young students,” Nelson said. “Some of the most formative experiences in my development as a college contributor came from the wonderful examples I had in my life, and this affords other kids a similar opportunity.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Provo Youth Mentoring programs have been temporarily suspended. Every year, Barrett emails a base of previous mentors. She said the same volunteers keep coming back, year after year. But if her program runs next year, she will have to start from scratch in building a volunteer team.

“I am hoping by fall we’ll be up and running again,” Barrett said of future plans for her program. “That’s what I’m planning on.”

Interested volunteers can email or visit the Provo Youth Mentoring page on the BYU Y-Serve website.

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