Once a teacher; always a teacher. That adage sheds just a little light on Mary Bristow’s approach to tackling a problem.
The former teacher, mother, and grandmother saw a need within a Region 8 school and did not stop until she came up with a plan to help struggling students.
“This is a bird from the New World. Look at it and pass it around,” Bristow tells students at Jonesboro’s MicroSociety Magnet School.
This Tuesday morning finds Mary Bristow tutoring first graders in a small group session.
“I love to teach,” Bristow said. “You can teach a child anything if you can find the right place in that child’s mind to connect.”
And on this particular day, that connection was met with a bit of a surprise.
"Hello!" I said leading a line of family and friends into the room where Bristow was the teacher. There are balloons and cameras snapping photos. Eventually, the procession curls all the way around the room to watch.
"I hear you are the superstar behind the Micro Mentors," I said.
Shocked and surprised, Bristow smiles back.
"I wouldn't call myself a superstar," Bristow said. "I could call myself "called."
Bristow calls this mentoring program her mission. Teachers and school administrators call it, "a blessing."
"She not only volunteers her time, she is a person who organizes and seeks out other volunteers and says you will be blessed," Dr. Kim Wilbanks, superintendent of Jonesboro Public Schools said. "She tells them, 'You'll serve others; but the blessings you receive will way exceed anything that the students receive.'"
Eight years ago, Bristow saw a need.
"I was at an American Association of Women Meeting and Brenda Heringer brought that article about how poorly Jonesboro elementary skills were doing, and she leaned forward and said, 'Ladies, surely there's something we can do to help,'" Bristow recalled.
Bristow, a former teacher herself, went into classrooms, observed, listened, and came up with a program that would involve weekly volunteer mentors. She recruited the first volunteers from her church.
"The community has responded hugely to this," Bristow said of the volunteer mentoring program. "I have a doctor. I have two lawyers."
"She asked at Sunday School and other places at church if we would volunteer and I have no grandchildren. It's good for me," Harry Puddephatt, one the MicroSociety mentors said. "I enjoy it getting to work with the little fella."
"These children leave with an adult friend and the adults leave with another member in their family," Bristow said.
One-on-one tutoring allows time for adult mentors to work on specific skills.
"Some of my tutors have been with me for eight years," Bristow said.
Each child is assigned an adult mentor. The pair works together on specific assignments based on the student's needs.
"They write a paragraph and they also do math," Bristow said. "And so at the end of each session, they have covered and hopefully stronger in each of those three areas and take away vocabulary and a concept."
"You really can't put a price on what it means to a group of students or a school for somebody to invest their life in the lives of young children," Dr. Wilbanks explained.
But, we can reward the woman whose idea it was to match mentors with students.
"One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, five, six, seven, eight. Four hundred-eight dollars!" I announced as the crowd on onlookers count out the cash prize for winning the Gr8 Acts of Kindness.
"That money will disappear, but this check will serve as a reminder of your winning," Allen Williams, Community President at First Community Bank said.
A beaming Mary Bristow accepted the enlarged check for framing and held it proudly for cameras to snap pictures.
"I will donate it to MicroSociety and they are going to set up a rewards program for academics," Bristow said.
She was joined by her husband, Bill, and daughter, Judge Melissa Richardson, daughter-in-law, Jill Bristow, and her grandchildren.
"These children are absolutely lovely children," Bristow said of the MicroSociety students. "It's a privilege to work with them and to have found a mission where I could."
JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.