I want to thank you for covering the latest study regarding the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) high school [mentoring] program in your [December] article, “Peer-to-Peer Pressures.” Having worked for BBBS for the past seven years in two communities, I can relate to some of the challenges depicted. Clearly, there is room for improvement for our high school groups. There is also significant positive change taking place.
The study shows that those youth matched with high school volunteers do not benefit as much as those who have adult mentors. This is determined by the “positive impacts” indicated in the study, but does not take into account any qualitative testimonials from the children who are matched to high school bigs.
Our bigs are not there to provide mentoring to children where, in only one year, there will be significant improvement in the child’s grades, efforts or quality of work. The bigs provide friendship; the littles are able to confide in them about their low grades, social dilemmas or personal challenges.
The study indicates that the more contact the high school bigs/littles had with BBBS staff, the better the littles fared. Our bigs and littles meet in groups, through matches that are facilitated by BBBS match support staff. Our BBBS staffers meet with their high school bigs prior to each meeting with their littles in order to address any questions or concerns the bigs may have. I am not sure how many of the high school bigs in the study have similar support systems in place.
Every year, we have more and more children asking their school counselors and teachers how they can have a high school big. Also, we have several former littles who want to become high school bigs themselves. When I interviewed Tre for the high school bigs program, I asked him why he wanted to be a Big Brother. Tre said that even though he does not do well in school and has many personal challenges at home, his Big Sister was always there for him, every week, talking, socializing and playing board games. Tre credits his Big Sister with encouraging him to become a chef when he graduates from high school.
I simply want to share with you the positive side to our high school volunteers and the impact they have on our children and community.
Armen Babajanian, Program Director
Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas