Orlando mentorship program reaches students beyond the classroom

ELEVATE Orlando uses a holistic approach to mentoring

ORLANDO, Fla. – Most of us have had at least one teacher who we can say made a unique difference in our lives. One Central Florida nonprofit is using that premise to help guide kids who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks.

ELEVATE Orlando employs full time teachers/mentors who take a “holistic” approach to teach life skills. The students enroll in ELEVATE as an elective at school but the relationships continue, and are encouraged, outside of the classroom.

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This week’s Getting Results Award winner says mentoring with ELEVATE Orlando allows her to fulfill her purpose—the same way others have done for her.

It’s late on a Friday afternoon, and while most everyone at Jones High School in Orlando has gone for the day, mentors Chevarlyn Corley and Robert De La Torre stay behind with about a dozen kids in room 122. The group listens to music, dances and plays card games. It’s a chance to encourage conversation. Corley is teamed up with ninth grader Genesis Hermenegildo.

“Friday is fun day,” Corley said, as music played in the background. “We always have something different for the kids. It gives us an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation.”

The two talk about school, relationships, home life and aspirations.

“It’s helped me a lot,” Hermenegildo said. “I used to be shy. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye without looking away.”

Hermenegildo has been in the program for three years and has plans to attend nursing school.

“It’s helped me with communication,” Hermenegildo said. “I feel more confident in myself, that I can do things.”

Corley sees this confidence in students who feel nurtured and supported.

“Kids do well when they have that someone who they can lean on, talk to and have difficult conversations (with),” Corley said. “Conversations they might not be having at home.”

Corley was working as a teacher in Orange County Public Schools and although she loved making a difference with her students, she felt there was something missing.

“The classroom wasn’t enough because it stopped,” Corley said. “I started wondering how my students were doing once they moved on. ELEVATE has that extra component.”

That’s because mentors are encouraged to create long-term relationships with their students, starting in elementary school and carrying through to college.

Sherry Paramore, president of ELEVATE Orlando, says that’s what makes the program unique.

“We spend time with our kids outside of school. We love to say that’s where the magic happens.”

Paramore said the goal is to help students graduate and have a plan for their future. She said it’s the “middle of the road” students that can benefit the most.

“We get students at a time when they are, I’ll use the word fragile,” Paramore said. “But one thing we’ve learned is the earlier we start in their academic career, the more successful they’ll be.”

ELEVATE Orlando addresses 38 of 40 developmental needs and boasts a 100% graduation rate in the past three years. Of the students enrolled, 96% move on to college, vocational school or the military.

The program is offered at schools that feed into Jones High School, Evans High School and Oakridge High School.

Paramore said Corley, like all the mentors, has a gift for bringing out the best in her students.

“She has a natural passion for helping students,” Paramore said. “She goes above and beyond. She’s one of those teachers.”

Corley said she finds inspiration in her own experience.

“I remember teachers who helped me,” she said. “I realize as an adult, looking back, how important it is to have those teachers who are not just there for the check. They’re there because it can actually change your life.”

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.