Lewis School’s Mentoring Program Soars

Studies show students who are mentored develop more positive attitudes, achieve higher grades, improve relationships with adults and peers, are better able to express feelings, are more likely to trust their teachers, and develop higher levels of self-confidence.

Mentoring takes place throughout the school year on the school campus for thirty minutes to one hour each week at a time during the school day that is convenient for both mentor and student.

The Okaloosa School District is currently recruiting mentors for all schools and at all academic levels throughout the county. The District screens, orients, trains and matches volunteer mentors with students, and maintains support of mentoring relationships between students and mentors.

Lewis School is just one example of how the mentoring program is making a difference in the lives of students in Okaloosa County.

“Our students come from everywhere – we have a large military population,” said Lewis School Principal, Mike Fantaski. “Ninety percent of our mentors also come from Eglin Air Force Base. They call us and want to help us out.”

Volunteer mentors are individuals who provide consistent support, guidance, and help to a student who is in need of a positive role model. The goal of student mentoring is to help students involved in the mentoring program to gain the skills and confidence to be responsible for their own futures.

These volunteers do more than just show up to help stressed Fantaski. “For example, we had a child come to us last year that was not able to have a one-on-one aid that he needed, but we had four military volunteers come at different times of the day to be with this child all day long,” said Fantaski.

The driving force behind Lewis School’s successful mentoring program is Pang Shaffer, who serves as the school’s Mentor and Volunteer Coordinator.

Shaffer has been the Mentor Coordinator at Lewis School for the last five years, but has been working with the mentoring program for over twenty-eight years. She served at Oak Hill Elementary School and New Heights Elementary School before coming to Lewis School.

“Pang has a heart for the mentoring program and has worked to expand it and to build the afternoon mentor/math tutoring program with Eglin Air Force Base personnel,” said Diane Meredith, the coordinator of the Okaloosa County School District’s Mentor program.

“I am a product of a mentoring program,” said Shaffer. “Without the mentoring program, I would not be where I am today, talking to you and doing the job that I really love. So I am very, very passionate about this program.”

According to Shaffer, support from school administrators is critical for a successful program.

“My principal, the assistant principal, and everybody, they are all very supportive and always behind me,” said Shaffer. “Our parents call me and express their gratitude about helping their children.”

Last year Lewis School had sixty mentors and is starting off this year with thirty mentors.

“Lewis School had more mentors than any other Okaloosa School last year,” said Meredith.

“Word of mouth is the main form of recruiting new mentors. Current mentors tell their friends, who in turn become mentors,” said Shaffer.

Some mentors ask for the same student year after year; others get new students each year.

Lewis School also offers after school math tutoring for middle school students which is manned by six mentors from Eglin Air Force Base and a Lewis School math teacher. The students meet Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

“We call these volunteers our Lewis Angels because they are always here. They are very passionate about what they do,” said Shaffer.

“You should see the children’s faces every time they see their mentors. They are not just mentors, they are friends,” said Shaffer.

Mentors meet with students once a week for as little as thirty minutes and students are selected for the mentoring program in various ways.

“The parents will call me and tell me their child needs a mentor, or the teacher tells me,” said Shaffer. “Grades, behavioral issues, or parents being deployed, are other reasons a child might need a mentor.”

Being kind to your mentors is also important noted Shaffer.

“We usually hold a special luncheon to recognize them and thank them at the end of the year, but many of them think doing this for the kids is all the reward they need,” said Fantaski.

Kathy Flynn, Mentor, and Stacy Jones, 7th grade

When asked how he felt about having a mentor, seventh grade student, Stacy Jones, said, “It has been very good so far because I have always gotten help and it is really the reason I passed last year. I always had a hard time doing my homework but I had time to do my homework with her (my mentor).”

“We started together about this time last year,” said Kathy Flynn, a Statistician Analyst at Eglin Air Force Base. “He was definitely having trouble getting his homework done, especially in math - which is what I have my degree in - so that worked out very well. So I could come once a week and go over the homework he had gotten done to make sure he got it right and talk about the problems. I think he got a better understanding of how to do it.”

Flynn stated she found out about Lewis’ mentoring program at her office located on Eglin Air Force Base and called the school to see how she could get involved.

“I think it is a great program and I think the rewards for being a mentor are fantastic. When Stacy came in this year, it was so great to see him again. Finding out that he is doing so much better in his classes, is very rewarding,” said Flynn.

Michael Clark, Mentor, and Corey DeLoach, 8th grade

Michael Clark, who is currently active duty in the Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base, met his student, Corey DeLoach, for the first time last Friday. They had about an hour session to get to know each other.

“Fifty-five minutes to be exact,” said DeLoach.

DeLoach said he hopes to get better grades by working with his mentor. He also hopes to get a good friend.

Jim LeRue, Mentor

Jim LeRue started mentoring last year but has not had the opportunity to meet his new student yet this year.

“I really enjoy mentoring and I think the students enjoy it, at least my student last year enjoyed it,” said LeRue. “Hopefully we are making a difference in each other’s lives.”

Matthew Mason, 8th grade

Matthew Mason, an eighth grade student at Lewis School, hopes the mentoring program will help him get better grades so he can move on to high school.

Derek Reding, Mentor and Jordan Halmstetter, 4th grade

Derek Reding and Jordan Halmstetter, a fourth grade student at Lewis School, have been working together for about three weeks. Reding is helping Halmstetter primarily with motivation.

“It is very good when a student is able to make progress in what they are intending to do, especially grades,” said Reding.



Christine Wicker, Mentor and Abigail Rigolosi, 6th grade

Christine Wicker and sixth grader, Abigail Rigolosi, had just met but were already hard at work on maps for World Cultures.

“We just met each other today, and we are very excited,” said Wicker. “We are going to be working together on Fridays on whatever subjects the teacher has for her to do.”



Rhonda Widmaier, Mentor and Forrest Peart, 5th grade

Forrest Peart, a fifth grade student at Lewis School, said he hopes to work on his math, social studies, and science with his mentor, Rhonda Widmaier.

“I mentor because I know these kids need the extra help and someone to listen to them and guide them and maybe teach them an easier way to do their homework,” said Widmaier. “They also need someone to have faith in them.”



Carena Green, Mentor, and Bethany Simene, 6th grade

This is Carena Green’s fourth year mentoring and her second year mentoring sixth grade student, Bethany Simene.

“We have a lot in common,” said Simene. “We both like to laugh and she is interested in the classes I am taking. I like to talk with somebody and tell them what is happening.”

“Sometimes these students just want someone to talk to,” said Green. “What they enjoy, I enjoy myself too because I learn new things as well. For example, Bethany was teaching me typing a few minutes ago.”

Green went on to say, “Mentoring is truly rewarding. Even if people have doubts in the beginning, as time goes on, you will start to make that connection. Thirty minutes of your time is not much, it’s one lunch. It is truly worth it. They will be surprised how much we touch these children’s lives and how they touch ours right back. If I can keep on doing this going on four years, anyone else can do it too.” 

According to Superintendent Dr. Alexis Tibbetts, the most at risk students in Okaloosa County are just like the at risk students across the Nation – students that are in poverty, students that have parents that speak another language at home other than English, and students who are retained one or more times.

“We need you – whether you are a businessman, a stay at home mom, or are an active duty military person, anyone that can spare thirty minutes once a week – we need you to partner with the Okaloosa County School District and become a mentor to a student in one of our schools,” said Tibbetts. “You don’t have to be a tutor or an expert in Algebra, but you do need to be someone that can become an accountability partner; someone who listens, cares and supports a student within their educational process.”

Qualities of a good Volunteer Mentor:

  • Engages in a postive relationship with the student;
  • Listens well;
  • Communicates on a level that the student can understand;
  • Provides leadership;
  • Is a positive role model;
  • Is not a judgmental person;
  • Is committed;
  • Nurtures a relationship that respects the student’s dignity;
  • Reinforces student’s success; and
  • Is willing to serve a minimum of one year in the program, hopefully more than that!

Take these easy steps to become a Volunteer Mentor and make the difference in the life of a student:

1. Complete a Mentor Information Request agreeing to submit to a criminal background check.
2. Attend a 30-minute training session.

All mentors and volunteers must receive a background check, be fingerprinted, and go through mentor training.

For more information on the Okaloosa County School District’s Mentoring Program click here!

If you are interested in mentoring, please call Diane Meredith, Office of Community Affairs, at 833-7614 or email meredithd@mail.okaloosa.k12.fl.us.

Volunteer to Become a Mentor....We could really use your help!