UND, Grand Forks School District partner to open new Mentor Center

Located on UND’s campus, the Mentor Center serves middle- and high-school students in Grand Forks

The Mentor Center is located in the same building that houses UND’s Clinical Education Center. Web screenshot.

As the director of the newly opened Mentor Center for middle- and high-school children in Grand Forks, Robin David is often quite busy with administrative work. The best part of her job, however, is interacting with students who come to the Center in search of in-person connections amid a pandemic that has forced many of them to study online at home.

“A lot of our students are returning,” David said. “It’s just a happy thing to see them come in each day and to greet them and check in with them and see what kind of a day they’re having and how things have been going since we saw them last.”

Since its opening in January, the Mentor Center has hosted nearly 100 students, providing them with academic and mental-health support six afternoons a week. As the word about the new facility is spreading, more and more young people are discovering the Center.

Last week, for example, David welcomed four friends who came in together to check out the Center. They didn’t have any homework to do, she said. Having heard about it, they wanted to see the space. The children ended up painting with one of the instructors. Another young person came in to do his school assignments but also to chat with peers face-to-face at last, after months of remote classes.

“What’s really so special about this facility is that we are able to provide a wraparound approach and support the wellbeing of students in a variety of ways, whatever that happens to look like on a given day,” David said.

The Center was born out of an idea – and a need – to help students cope with the disruptions COVID has caused in their daily lives. “We know that many students just feel disconnected from other human beings,” said Catherine Gillach, assistant superintendent of secondary education at Grand Forks Public Schools. “They’re missing out on interactions with others, and it’s affecting their mental health. It’s affecting their academics. It’s really just affecting their overall life. So that’s why we envisioned the Mentor Center – to fulfill some of those needs.”

The Mentor Center operates through a grant of roughly $180,000 that the school district received from the Governor’s Emergency Educational Relief (GEER) Fund, which disburses federal money for COVID relief.

UND support and collaboration

The Center also functions through the support of the University of North Dakota. The Center is housed in the UND Clinical Education Center at Sixth Avenue North. UND donated space in the building to the Mentor Center, allowing it to channel its monies toward student service and not rent, said Gillach.

“UND has been the blessing in this all because they’ve offered us this space,” she said. “It’s the perfect space for us to keep kids safe and support them at the same time.”

Interim Provost Debbie Storrs embraced the opportunity to partner with the Mentor Center.  “UND is part of the wider community, and all students matter,” she said. “Providing space and parking to support middle- and high-school students’ well-being at the Mentor Center was an easy decision.”

Michele Carroll, administrative assistant at the Office for Academic Affairs, was tasked with coordinating the effort. She arranged meetings between Facilities, UIT and other entities on campus in order to find a suitable space for the Mentor Center.

“I have two children, and I saw how the Mentor Center can help them,” Carroll said. “On the UND side of things, I think of the Center as a great opportunity for the University to collaborate with Grand Forks Public Schools and to help each other out.”

The partnership does not end with the real estate. David is working with the UND College of Education & Human Development to recruit about 10 volunteer tutors. The Mentor Center will provide aspiring teachers at UND with hands-on experiences, while offering school children the opportunity to learn about the University and college life.

“We’re looking at potentially putting together some panel discussions with UND students, so that our students get a chance to learn a little bit more about what that college experience is like,” David said. “They get a chance to be on a college campus here. And, we want them to be able to understand a little bit more about what that is like.”

Commenting on the ongoing cooperation between the University and the school district, Gillach said, “We’re just dipping our toes in the water with the Mentor Center, and we are meeting a huge and immediate need. But, I think that our future partnerships will only get bigger and better.”