A parent mentor helps a student. Courtesy photo

“Before, we didn’t have anything like this,” recalls Araceli Bautista Ochoa’s oldest son, referring to her involvement in the Parent Mentor Program offered through Valley Settlement. Bautista Ochoa volunteers her time to support kindergarten students in her assigned classroom by working collaboratively with the teacher, following the agenda and providing support to students in need.

The Parent Mentor Program was established to bridge the gap between Latino families and public schools in the Roaring Fork School District. With the help of volunteers like Bautista Ochoa, the program provides around 15,000 volunteer hours to elementary classrooms each year and offers opportunities for personal and professional growth through weekly training sessions.

“There was a gap between the Latino community and the involvement of our parents in schools,” says Marlin Gonzalez Rojas, adult-focused program manager at Valley Settlement. “That’s why the program was adapted, presented to the district and approved.”

People become involved in the program through word of mouth, as well as through Valley Settlement’s door-to-door outreach efforts. It’s not uncommon for participants of other Valley Settlement programs to join additional programs like Parent Mentor.

Before volunteering, Bautista Ochoa, like all new parent mentors, received an orientation that covers the role of the mentor, the mission of the program, expectations and requirements. They also learn about the school system and its norms. Once their orientation is complete, Valley Settlement gives them a tour of the schools to familiarize new volunteers.

“It’s a beautiful program,” says Bautista Ochoa. “Latino kids see someone who looks like their mom or dad, and they feel confident enough to start opening up. Even if they’re shy at first, the volunteer is there to help them grow and provide a sense of security.”

Then comes the exciting part. Pairing mentors with teachers.

“In the end, all the teachers don’t have a volunteer, only the ones that apply and let us know of that need,” says Yessica Lasso Ledesma, volunteer coordinator at Valley Settlement. “Then, we start pairing [teachers to volunteers]. We look for a volunteer for a specific teacher then we continue the induction process.”

The parent mentors who volunteer their time and skills report a significant decrease in perceived stress, an increase in their sense of parenting competence and an overall greater sense of engagement with their community. A survey conducted by Valley Settlement found that teachers who have parent mentors in their classrooms report increased one-on-one support for their students and feel calmer overall.

“It gives me a lot of joy to serve the community,” says Bautista Ochoa. “The community has given me so much. And now I can somewhat return all that my kids were able to benefit from in the Valley.”

One of the most important contributions that parent mentors make is the support they provide to English-language learners (ELL). In a school district where over one-third of students are ELL, the extra support that parent mentors provide in Spanish is critical to increasing the teachers’ effectiveness and promoting a positive learning environment for all students in the classroom.

“It’s a new beginning for [the students]. They see a person that speaks the same language that they speak at home and I feel that the kids are more comfortable,” says Bautista Ochoa.

Though parent mentorship may seem to benefit only the students, these types of programs intend to get parents involved in their children’s education and therefore their community as a whole.

“Something that we want to highlight is the importance of parents who are involved in school, not only because they’ll learn more about the education system, but also because they’ll be able to better support their kids at home,” says Lasso Ledesma. “They can leave a legacy with their kids and that’s something they can do that’s very positive in their lives. It’s contributing a grain of sand or a bit of your time to the community.”

Mentorship plays a crucial role in breaking the cycle of poverty and promoting intergenerational success. Programs like this provide students with positive role models, resources, and support, helping to ensure the next generation of Latino leaders in the Roaring Fork Valley have the tools they need to succeed.