WOOD RIVER JCT. — At at time when they may need it most, at-risk ninth grade students will be able to receive the help and support they need through the Chariho School District’s new mentorship program, the CHILL program.

Standing for CHarged to Inspire Learners to become Leaders, the program is designed to pair at-risk ninth graders with  responsible adults, supporting and preparing students for their future in school and beyond.

The program is closely aligned with the district’s strategic plan, Vision 2023, and is also focused on ensuring that all ninth graders in the district strive for excellence and are on track for graduation. The ultimate goal is to ensure on-time graduation.

Kush Shukla, the program coordinator, said that the mentorship program has been a long-term goal for the district and that he was proud to see it finally come to fruition after months of hard work.

“There has been a strong interest and desire within the Chariho community to establish a districtwide mentoring program for many years,” said Shukla. “After exploring other options and being able to secure support and funding, it was the right time to develop an ‘in-house’ mentoring program.”

Shukla believes that the supportive relationships established through this program are essential to the success and well-being of every student.  

“Evidence-based research has shown that supportive connections are essential to youth development and have been linked to positive future outcomes,” he said. “The CHILL program will allow the district to easily connect adult mentors from the local community directly with current Chariho students.”

Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci has been a strong supporter of the initiative and serves on the program's advisory board.

“If you are a person who doesn’t have a strong adult in your life, the mentoring program provides you with one,” Ricci said. “The chances are, you will do better when you are connected to a responsible adult.”

To start the program for its first year, the advisory board decided to focus only on ninth-grade students at Chariho High School and at the Chariho Alternative Learning Academy. District officials said they believed that the grade nine is a pivotal year in determining whether a student will be on track for graduation.

“Grade nine is a year for a make-or-break situation,” Ricci said. “Kids who do well in grade nine tend to graduate. Kids who don’t do well in grade nine tend not to graduate.”

The district is taking applications for mentors and mentee referrals through Sept. 30. The goal for this year is to recruit 10 to 15 adult-student pairs. 

The most important requirement? “You have to be willing,” Ricci said. Mentors and mentees will attend training and orientation sessions, will be required to attend monthly program meetings, and will be encouraged to connect regularly with one another. 

Katie Kirakosian, the district’s development officer and a member of the CHILL Advisory Board, said felt that the  program would allow for positive, mutual relationships.

“For the mentees, we're really looking for them to all in their own individualized way feel like they have a champion behind them,” Kirakosian said. As for the mentors, she said it would be really powerful for them "to see the positive impact that they can make.” 

Kirakosian said the program could help ensure that students feel appreciated and valued. 

“It's a benefit to society because we know that students who are struggling are possibly going to become adults who are struggling. And that doesn't benefit anyone,” she said. “We also know that it's a benefit to society if students feel supported and heard during this critical developmental period in their lives. I think a lot of our students would benefit from that.”

The program has just begun and school officials are still exploring new ways to support all struggling students, before and after the ninth grade. Eventually, program developers envision that mentee recruitment will expand up through twelfth grade and then down toward kindergarten.

Visit  www.chariho.k12.ri.us/mentoring for more information on the CHILL program and for links to mentor application and mentee referral forms. Questions pertaining to the program should be directed to the CHILL coordinator, Kush Shukla.

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