Written by Anna Redbond, Thrive’s Communications Coordinator.
January is National Mentoring Month. In honor of the celebration, Thrive interviewed Bozeman School District Superintendent, Rob Watson, to discuss mentoring, role models and his one piece of golden parenting advice.
Was there anyone who was a mentor or role model for you growing up?
My parents were good role models. My Dad was college educated and my Mom went back to college when I was a young boy. I would often ask her ‘why are you working so hard?’ As a child you want your mother’s attention, but going to college took a lot of her time and effort. She told me it was about bettering herself and being able to support us kids. That was inspiring to watch.
Why is education important to you?
My grandfather Patricio grew up in the Philippines, where he worked in the rice fields at 8 years old because his family didn’t have enough money for school. At 18, he went to America in search of a better life. My grandmother was born into a family of farmers in Mexico, who travelled to the beet fields in Miles City every summer. My grandparents met there and my grandmother went against her parents’ will by staying with Patricio rather than following them back. They lived in a tiny town in rural Montana, where it was tough being a poor, uneducated minority family. My grandmother was determined to send her kids to school. She couldn’t read, but she went to the one-room schoolhouse after school and the teacher taught her to read. Whenever I’ve wanted to give up, my mom has put my grandmother on the phone. Education changed her life and she wouldn’t let me give up.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge to a student finishing their education?
Worst case scenario is a kid dropping out of school, and there are often lots of different reasons for that happening. Every kid is different, but I boil it down to them losing their connection to school. They end up with more connections – such as work or taking care of younger siblings – that pull them away. They get behind in credits and lose the connection to school because they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. To prevent this, starting kids on the right path with reading skills at an early age is critically important. As is kids having multiple connection points to schools. Local mentoring partnerships like [Thrive’s Child Advancement Project] CAP and Big Sky Youth Empowerment help massively by giving kids more connections, which keeps them in school.
Have any particular mentoring stories struck a particular chord for you?
My father was a CAP mentor way back when the program first started, and he stuck with the kid through middle school and high school. He built a strong relationship with his mentee. I was impressed with that because it not only helped the kid, but it helped my father understand the importance of maintaining positive relationships for kids.
What advice would you give someone who was considering signing up to mentor a local student?
We need your help! Our district’s mission statement is to help ALL kids succeed. The hardest part of that is the all part. We have 6700 students this year and we can’t do it alone. We can do a lot, and parents do a lot, but we need more adult interaction with kids. Having a mentor improves a child’s likelihood of success, and the CAP mentors are great advocates for kids. They see their ups and downs during the school day, and through informal conversations with people like the Principal, they can advocate for the kid and help us better understand the child.
Do you have kids? What’s your one piece of advice for new parents?
I have two daughters, Isabelle is 11 and Emma is almost 14. My advice – and this is a silly one – is make sure you buy gloves and hats in bulk, because they’re going to lose them! More seriously, find opportunities for informal conversations with your kids. This can be as simple as driving and turning off the radio to talk to them. They may seem like small, insignificant moments but you learn so much about your children. As parents we’re so busy, so I try to find opportunities for these conversations with both of my daughters. Then they know that I’m interested and I’m listening to what their hopes and fears are.
Thank you, Rob!