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CHCCS mentorship program returns, aims to combat racial achievement opportunity gap


The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Administrative Office building in Chapel Hill, N.C., is pictured on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools' Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program — a mentorship opportunity that aims to improve the academic achievement of students of color — has returned to its previous strength following limitations during the COVID-19 pandemic and an administrative shift in priorities, according to a recent CHCCS press release.

BRMA was founded in 1995 to address the racial achievement opportunity gap for Black students in the school district. Lorie Clark, coordinator of Student Leadership and Engagement for CHCCS, said the program experienced stagnation and lack of engagement from 2019 to 2021.

“Mentors weren't being recruited, which meant scholars weren't being nominated,” she said. “There was no funding that was being raised, so it was just pretty stagnant for a couple of years.”

BRMA recruits mentors from the community to commit to at least two years of mentoring a selected student from CHCCS, also referred to as a scholar. Mentors dedicate two hours per week or more of one-on-one time with their scholars.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Camille Berry has been a mentor-advocate for BRMA since the 2015-16 school year.

She said she noticed a change in communication from program administration leading up to CHCCS Superintendent Pam Baldwin's resignation in April 2020. She said she believes that the current district administration has recommitted to the program. 

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation Executive Director Madeline Blobe and her husband are both mentor-advocates in the BRMA program. She said she and her husband try to plan something with their scholars at least once a week.

“I think it's what the student needs from you,” she said. “The goal is that you're going to be another resource for these young people.”

BRMA also encourages mentor-advocates to extend the relationship with their scholar beyond the two-year requirement, ideally through graduation.

Mentor-advocates are screened through a home visit and essay and then trained on education, advocacy and mentoring, with interactive activities to prepare them for their new roles at orientation, according to the program website.

“There is a massive sense of community, at least when I was there, even more so now I think,” graduate and current employee of the BRMA program Sahmoi Stout said.

Stout said the program gave him exposure to new experiences and learning that provided value later in his life.

BRMA aims to increase engagement and enrichment opportunities for students of color in CHCCS, while expanding leadership opportunities and academic confidence. 

The historically wide racial achievement gap in CHCCS has fueled efforts such as BRMA to educate students on possibilities for their future, Berry said.

“It's hard to achieve something if you haven't seen it and conceived of it,” she said.

Experiences facilitated by the mentor-advocates build a sense of community that can facilitate larger conversations and open up new opportunities, Stout said.

Stout also said closing the district’s achievement gap takes time, dedication and a mindset to improve.

“When you are planting those seeds, when you are providing that enrichment and that exposure, I believe that helps to close the achievement gap,” Clark said.

Those interested in becoming a mentor-advocate can visit this link for more information.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of former CHCCS Superintendent Pam Baldwin, as well as the month in which she resigned. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.


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