When 8-year-old Alexis Bowman caught sight of Juanita Flemming, the second-grader at Cook Literacy Model School ran into Flemming’s waiting arms.

They just met about six weeks ago, matched through Cook’s new partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but Flemming said she and her “little sister” are already developing a close bond. For an hour every other week, Flemming meets with Alexis at the school. Sometimes they eat lunch together and read; other times, Flemming sits in class with Alexis and helps her with her work.

Alexis said she has fun reading with her “big sister” and likes it when she comes to class.

“It’s special,” Alexis said. “We’re doing fun things together.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of many new initiatives at Cook this year, in its first year of a whole-school restart plan aimed to take the school from lowest-performing in the state to a place of growth and higher achievement. While planning for her school over the summer, Principal Paula Wilkins set a goal to find mentors for each of her students.

“Research shows that connectedness is the key,” Wilkins said.

A 2013-14 youth outcome survey from BBBS found that 98 percent of “littles” graduated on time and nearly three-quarters improved their academic performance.

Finding a mentor for each of Cook’s 250 students is a lofty goal. Jodi Sarver, marketing, communications and outreach coordinator for BBBS, said right now thatthe organization is focusing on matching each child whose parent or guardian signs on and educating families about the program and its benefits.

Sarver said it’s been slow to start, but she hopes interest will build as more kids and families find out about the program from those who are already participating.

The group already has 60 adult volunteers signed on to partner with a Cook student, but only seven kids have been matched so far. Another 11 students have signed up and will be matched soon, but the program can easily take another 40 students, said Shamika Starke, school-based program specialist for BBBS. Students will get a minimum of two hours of one-on-one time with their mentor each month, often for 30 minutes a week or an hour every other week.

“It’s someone who can give them a difference perspective,” Starke said.

Students are matched with mentors based on applications, in-person interviews and common interests to try and give the pair a starting point to build their relationship.

For Cook fourth-grader Daiton Fulton and his “big brother” Rodney Sanders, that starting point was sports.

Daiton wants to be a basketball player, and the pair has bonded over a love for the game. Sanders, a systems support analyst at Wells Fargo, said they talk a lot about setting goals and having backup plans.

“His goal is to be a basketball player,” Sanders said, “but I’m pushing on him to have a backup plan, like education or a skill set.”

Sanders said Daiton has responded well, and has asked for help with his homework. Daiton said he looks forward to Sanders’ visits at lunch, and Sanders is looking forward to catching one of Daiton’s basketball games.

Cook is one of five site-based school programs in Forsyth County. Smaller programs also exist at Wiley Middle School, Paisley IB Magnet School and Kimberley Park and Speas elementary schools. Another is being started at Mineral Springs Middle School.

Site-based programs mean that students and their “big brother” or “big sister” meet only at school. BBBS also runs a community-based program, where families can apply outside of the school setting for a mentor for a child. In community-based matches, kids and mentors have more freedom for outings and activities outside of school and often hang out on weekends or at home. All in all, BBBS is serving about 700 kids in Forsyth and Davie counties.

More volunteers are always needed, said Starke. To learn more about volunteering or signing up a child to get a mentor, visit the BBBS website at BBBSNC.org.

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aherron@wsjournal.com (336) 727-4068

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