JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
A mentoring program at four school districts across two San Antonio area counties is giving members of the Joint Base San Antonio community an opportunity to serve as wingmen to at-risk students.
The program is offered through Communities in Schools of South Central Texas, which is part of a national network established in New York City more than 40 years ago to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life.
“Communities in Schools is a national dropout prevention program,” said Sonya Chapa, CIS of South Central Texas mentoring coordinator. “We work with Comal and Guadalupe counties and with the New Braunfels, Comal, Marion and Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City independent school districts.”
Senior Master Sgt. Dustin Sandquist, Air Force Personnel Center Air Reserve Component Case Management Division superintendent, said he sees the impact of mentoring when he comes to school each week.
“At that young age it is just nice to be able to see them excited to see me when I show up,” said Sandquist, who has served as a CIS mentor for more than three years at Watts Elementary School in the SCUCISD. “They always have stories to tell me or something eventful they have done since the last time we met. To me, this is the best way to see the mentoring process work.”
Allen Canady, a Military and Family Life Counselor at the JBSA-Randolph Military & Family Readiness Center, said volunteering as a mentor allows him to immerse himself in the community.
“I just want to be there with the kids,” said Canady, who mentors Brian, a freshman at Steele High School in the SCUCISD. “Mentoring has given me the opportunity to give back to the community that I live in and to hopefully be an example and an inspiration to the kids who are seeking to become active members of society.”
The process to recruit mentors like Sandquist and Canady begins on each CIS campus, where a site coordinator for each campus refers students who need additional support to the program, Chapa said.
“When they need a tutor or a mentor, they come to me and we work together to find somebody to fit that student,” she said.
Prospective tutors complete an application and are subject to a background check. Once they are approved for the program, tutors attend an orientation session and a training workshop, followed by the initial meeting with their student.
Students selected for mentoring have a variety of needs, Chapa said.
For example, they may be shy and have a need to work on social skills, or they may speak predominantly Spanish at home and require help reading in English, she said.
For Sandquist, the sessions are mutually beneficial.
“I feel like they’re mentoring me more than I’m mentoring them,” said Sandquist, who mentors two elementary school students. “It just lets me get away from the adult life and I can make a difference in their lives and they make a huge difference in mine.”
Canady said his sessions with Brian also benefit him.
“It’s a mutual kind of thing we have together,” he said. “It’s been very rewarding spending time with Brian, him sharing with me his goals and dreams, so I appreciate the opportunity to be able to do it.”
Brian said he looks forward to his weekly sessions with Canady.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve made a great adult friend through the program considering I didn’t know him at first and I was really shy, but I feel like I’m able to open myself up to him,” he said.
JBSA school liaison offices work with CIS of South Central Texas and CIS of San Antonio to recruit mentors from the installations, said Angela Green, JBSA-Randolph school liaison officer.
“Over the past six years, JBSA has placed more than 300 mentors from JBSA-Lackland and JBSA-Randolph in schools throughout the San Antonio area,” she said.
Mentor training workshops are conducted regularly at JBSA-Lackland, JBSA-Randolph and the CIS of San Antonio headquarters, which is located at 1616 E. Commerce St. CIS of San Antonio recruits from the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and JBSA-Lackland areas, while CIS of South Central Texas covers the JBSA-Randolph area.
“This program is a win-win for everyone,” Green said. “It allows us to continue to be strong community partners with our 29 school districts that our offices serve. It’s a critical piece of the puzzle to provide support to potential at-risk youth.”
For more information, call the school liaison office at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, 221-2256, JBSA-Lackland, 671-8388 or JBSA-Randolph, 652-5321.