Sisters High School (SHS) counselor Rick Kroytz is a fervent believer in the impact the ASPIRE mentoring program can have in the lives of high school students as they explore their post-graduation options.

Kroytz is the ASPIRE coordinator for the school district and he’s in search of a new crop of mentors to help juniors and seniors at SHS. Sisters High School has long been considered a leader among ASPIRE programs in Oregon, but the impact of COVID-19 has taken a big toll on ability to facilitate the program, according to Kroytz.

“We are in recovery mode since, for over a year, we were not able to have mentors meet in person with their students, and I think that disconnection has led to some of those helpers no longer being part of the program, and has also impacted our ability to recruit new members,” he said.

Kroytz says he could immediately use at least 10 new mentors for this school year.

“We are looking for adults who have a heart to work with kids and help them begin the process of post-high school planning,” he said. “Mentors need to have a certain amount of patience as they work with kids who may just be considering their options in a real way for the first time.”

Kroytz explained that potential mentors are provided with both training and follow-up support once they agree to step in to help out.

“We provide instruction about the ‘college-going’ process along with support along the way,” he said.

The program goes beyond supporting students planning to attend traditional college, even though they use the term “college” throughout the program.

“We work with kids to plan whatever their next level of education might be, including military service, technical schools, associate’s degree programs, four-year schools — you name it,” Kroytz said.

Mentors give educated advice about choices after high school, provide assistance on applications and essays, help students keep track of deadlines, and more.

Mentors are asked to commit to at least two years of time so that they can start with juniors and work with them until they graduate.

In a typical year, mentors meet four to six times with their students. Some mentors take on just three or four kids and others handle more. Kroytz provides a space for the meeting and assists in scheduling time slots so that mentors can meet with a number of kids the same day in order to be more efficient.

Requirements for mentors include a brief application and a volunteer background check to get started. Currently ASPIRE mentors are required to wear masks in the building, use social distancing protocols, and be vaccinated.

Susan Parker, a mentor for the past nine years, got involved at the suggestion of a friend not long after she retired.

“What I have discovered is that I get a lot out of volunteering myself and it feels good to know I am helping these young people,” she said. “Once you get to know the kids, suddenly you are attending their concerts and their games in addition to following their academic progress.”

Parker says that mentors need to be flexible.

“Prospective mentors need to know that sometimes things come up and a kid has to take a test and can’t be at the meeting on time — things like that — but Rick helps work all those things out. The school has been incredibly supportive in making the program work,” she said.

Parker also serves on the board of the Graduate Resource Organization (GRO), which administers the treasure trove of local scholarships that has developed in Sisters over the years.

According to Parker, “GRO and ASPIRE really do go hand in hand because post-high school plans usually require funds, so in essence both programs are in place to help kids meet their future goals.”

Mentors tend to come from two populations in the community.

“Some parents get involved so they are more knowledgeable about helping their own students, and many mentors are retirees like me that have time and interest to help out,” Parker said.

To learn more, email Kroytz at rick.kroytz@ssd6.org and visit http://shs.ssd6.org/academics/aspire/ and https://oregonstudentaid.gov/aspire.aspx.