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Michael Plank with a studentMichael Plank with a student

College Mentors Help Students Succeed

"Everyone wants a mentor," Willamette University football player Michael Plank says as he reads with E.J. Marchbanks, 11, at Four Corners Elementary School in Salem.

Willamette University student Nate Matlock has been brushing up on what it's like to go to elementary school.

Rey Robles, a fifth-grader at Four Corners Elementary School, has been learning about sportsmanship.

The two have met twice per week during the school year. They talk, play basketball or do schoolwork.

It seems simple, but Four Corners counselor Nancy Link said the relationship has had a positive effect on Rey. She said Rey has been much more focused on his tasks in school this year.

Nate is one of about a dozen players from the Willamette football team who spent the past year mentoring young boys at Four Corners. Districtwide, 35 players mentor at 13 schools.

Linda Schattauer, the principal at Four Corners, said that the children's faces light up whenever they see the college students. Many of the young boys lack positive male role models, making the players' visits more important, Schattauer said.

Players visited Four Corners in past years on a volunteer basis, said Sue Speckman, a Salem-Keizer School District social worker in the special-education department.

This year, the district obtained a grant from Mid-Valley Partnership, a collaboration of local agencies that provides prevention and intervention services to young people in Marion and Polk counties.

The grant allowed the young men to mentor as part of a work-study program. This made it easier for more football players to participate, said Speckman, whose husband is the football team's head coach.

Michael Plank and Rey [Photo: Andrea J. Wright / Statesman Journal]Speckman hopes to continue the program, although the grant was for only this year.

Rey, 11, said he likes his mentor because "he's nice and funny."

"He tells me what it's like in college," Rey said.

Nate said he thinks that Rey has become much more open during the time they have been meeting.

Link, the counselor, said she has seen positive changes in many of the children who have been mentored, such as more calm behavior.

"I can't say enough about these guys and what a difference they've made in our school," Link said.

This article was written by Sarah Evans for the Stateman Journal and appeared on June 7, 2004.

© 2004, The Statesman Journal, reprinted with permission.