Society & Culture

Mentoring Clarke County students

UGA senior and Clarke County mentor Maggie DeMaria. left, laughs with her mentee, sixth grader Khaston Scott, as they color together in the media center at Coile Middle School. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

A school-based program that pairs recommended students with mentors helps build community bonds

Maggie DeMaria, a fourth-year student from Athens, has applied her love for her hometown to help build a strong community within the University of Georgia. 

DeMaria entered college with a passion to serve. Through the Clarke County Mentor Program, she was able to volunteer with a local nonprofit and lead the corresponding student organization, Clarke County Mentors at UGA. 

The Clarke County Mentor Program is a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and supports about 275 community volunteers to mentor students in the Clarke County School District. For more than 30 years, it has been a school-based program that pairs recommended students with mentors based on interests and experiences. About 150 of the total 275 mentors are UGA students.

A Clarke Central High School alumna, DeMaria will graduate from UGA this May with a degree in political science. Though she did not participate as a mentee, DeMaria came to UGA familiar with the program. 

“Growing up in the public schools here in Clarke County, we interacted with mentors on a weekly basis,” she said. “When I got to UGA, it was on my radar that I really wanted to be a mentor. I thought it was a cool and intentional way to give back to a school district that I had a really positive experience with. It’s such an easy, simple and joyful way to be able to give back.” 

DeMaria mentors a sixth grader at Coile Middle School, and she serves as the president of the Clarke County Mentors at UGA student organization.  

“It’s a simple thing to give an hour a week and you’re creating such a meaningful relationship with the student you’ve been paired with,” DeMaria said. 

In the years following the COVID-19 pandemic, she has worked with peers at UGA and Alison Rosch, executive director of the Clarke County Mentor Program, to help expand the UGA student organization. 

Maggie DeMaria, left, walks her mentee, sixth grader Khaston Scott, to her class at Coile Middle School. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

“Maggie has been a great leader to steer the group forward. She has brought passion and enthusiasm to her role with a focus on mentor match support and recruitment,” Rosch said. “She is from Athens, and she understands the needs of our students and schools.” 

The Clarke County Mentors at UGA student group hosts on-campus meetings where mentors get together, share stories and talk about the ways they connect with their mentees.  

While the Clarke County Mentor Program provides formal trainings to mentors, the student group offers ongoing support. For example, the UGA students will prompt mock questions and talk about how they will address common concerns in age-appropriate ways. 

When the UGA mentors know they have mentees of similar ages, the student organization will help connect them and encourage a “double date,” to connect the mentors and mentees for fun and enriching activities. Mentors also attend approved after-school activities, like athletic events, concerts and step shows, among other activities.  

“The neat thing about this organization is that it helps UGA students feel engaged in the community and connected to one another,” Rosch said. 

Both DeMaria and Rosch believe that the mentoring relationships are mutually beneficial for the mentors and mentees. Rosch said the mentees find the UGA students’ enthusiasm contagious, and many UGA students tell her that the mentoring visits are the highlight of their week. 

“I truly couldn’t imagine my UGA experience without mentoring,” DeMaria said. “I get to spend an hour each week with my mentee and get to give her my devoted attention. It is so much fun, and I hope it is as much of a gift to her as it is to me.”