Originally Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2013, 3:50 am
Last Updated: Sept. 13, 2013, 10:17 pm

Big Brothers Big Sisters vets boost grades

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

Photo: Leon Lagerstam
Rodolfo Rua-Rodriguez, 13, and his "Big Brother," Joe Moralez, 61, recently shared information about how well their "match" has been going since Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mississippi Valley put them together two years ago.

DAVENPORT -- A Davenport eighth-grader has learned plenty from Army, Old Navy and animal vets connected to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mississippi Valley.

Rodolfo Rua-Rodriguez, 13, posted straight A's last semester as a seventh-grader, and shared a bit of the credit with his Big Brother, Joe Moralez, 61, a retired Army veteran who teaches ROTC at Davenport Central High School.

Mr. Rua-Rodriguez wasn't the only one who did well, thanks in part to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

More than 65 percent of program participants improved their overall grades last school year, according to survey results recently released by the nonprofit mentoring program. About 30 percent of students in the program maintained their grades from the year before, and only 5 percent regressed, according to local CEO/president Jay Justin.

"In fact, 76 percent of the children enrolled in the BBBS program showed academic improvement in one or more of their classes," according to a news release.

About 300 assessments, administered by the Mississippi Bend Area Education Association, were filled out by area teachers who had students involved in the BBBS program.

The surveys used the Big Brothers Big Sisters' "Performance Outcome Evaluation" tool, developed through a partnership with United Way Worldwide, and the Search Institute.

Teachers were asked to rate each student by their academic performance, attendance, participation, self-confidence, expressing feelings, decision-making, risk, self-motivation, peer relationships and trust, according to a news release.

Mr. Justin said three primary areas measured by the evaluation tool are confidence, competence and caring.

"We think it's important for people like Joe, who volunteer so much time, attention and interest, to have all that validated," he said. "When Joe and other mentors like him see that 65 to 70 percent of the kids in the program improve their grades, it helps validate their time and effort."

Schools and teachers also spend a lot of time and resources, so survey results give them validation as well, Mr. Justin said.

Mr. Moralez and his "Little Brother," Rodolfo, don't count statistics when measuring how successful the program has been for them. They count the fun they've had and the things they have learned since being matched two years ago.

"When people ask me about my Big Brother, I tell them that I get to do all kinds of stuff," Mr. Rua-Rodriguez said. "I tell them it has helped me a lot to prepare for the future, by giving me all sorts of different job options. I also tell them it's a lot of fun."

"As for me, it's been very rewarding to have the opportunity to have some influence on Rodolfo's life, make him aware of career choices available to him and share some life skills with him," Mr. Moralez said.

A "Career Navigator" program component has allowed the pair to tour several businesses, including a veterinarian's office, a local Chick-fil-A restaurant, an Old Navy store, and the Rock Island Arsenal Manufacturing Facility.

"I don't think Rodolfo would have had the opportunity to see all those places and talk to a vet, engineer, retail or restaurant manager had it not been for Big Brothers Big Sisters," Mr. Moralez said.

Tours taken by Big Brothers Big Sisters participants aren't just walk-throughs, but are much more hands on, Mr. Justin said.

For example, at Old Navy, they learned how to design and set up the clothing store's "modelquins."

They said job explorations also include plenty of talk about academics.

"We have a lot of discourse about grades and the importance of education, and about how most jobs are going to need a college education," Mr. Rua-Rodriguez said.

"And everyone they meet tells them they won't hire high school drop-outs," Mr. Justin said.

It's not all work and no play, Mr. Rua-Rodriquez said. "We went to a baseball game, and have gone to Six Flags, and an Iowa football game."

Mentors such as Mr. Moralez serve as advocates, cheerleaders and insiders with information and hints to share to "ultimately lead them to self-sufficiency," Mr. Justin said.

"And something that makes a real difference in our program is how it works hand-in-hand with parents of the kids. We work hard to reinforce the parents and make sure we are all on the same page."

Measured Area: Percents who improved
Self-confidence: 60.9
Ability to express feelings:53.5
Decision-making skills:47.3
Self-esteem: 60.6
Self-Motivation 51.6
Behavior (manners/conduct)41.5
Attitude toward school:50.9
Class participation:51.9
Trust toward the teacher: 54.0

More than 160 children have been prepared to be matched in a mentoring relationship. To ask about becoming a "Big" in one of its mentoring platforms, visit the organization's bbbs-mv.org website or call (563) 323-8006.