How To Improve Education: Be a Friend

By Griffin Jones

“Education” might be the most talked-about social issue right now. It’s both  a cause-celeb and a genuine, desperate, struggle for improvement. Most people agree that the US education system needs to be reformed or replaced. But because education is as broad of a concept as “poverty” or “disease”, any proposed solution is extremely controversial.

Hundreds of people who donate money, time, or both to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County.

Hundreds of people who donate money, time, or both to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County.

Every time new changes enter the school system, they seem to get a negative response from teachers, students, lawmakers, parents, administrators, or the public at large…usually all six. With so many different people with as many different ideas and interests, it is a massive institutional problem both in Buffalo and in every city in the nation. So I have to wonder, when will more people turn to mentoring to offer a solution?

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County held their annual fundraising Gala on November 16. BBBSEC CEO, Tom Guagliardo and Board President, David Hore, shared a few impressive numbers. More than 98% of “Littles” are promoted to the next grade level. More than 90% who were eligible, graduated from high school last year.

Yet these children go to the same schools with less involved parents, frustrated teachers, and inefficient testing as all of the others. The power of mentoring is exactly that; a small-scale, hyper-local solution to very large-scale, societal problems.

At one point during dinner, Guagliardo asked all of the current and former Big Brothers and Big Sisters to stand and be recognized. As I scanned the room, I felt humbled and honored. I was so proud of my fellow Bigs and I’m so inspired by their example. I saw dozens of other people who admitted that they couldn’t overhaul the education system of the United States (or even the city of Buffalo). They can’t make America’s children world leaders in math and science. But they can help one child with their math and science homework. They can expose one child to many more experiences they would have had otherwise. They can nurture and preserve the curiosity that every kid starts with.

The greatest “help” any human being can provide to another is to take an active, personal interest in them. That’s all Big Brothers Big Sisters is. If institutional problems could be solved by institutional solutions, they would have been resolved by now. The larger the problem, the more necessary a mentor.

If the number of people who demand a solution to our education problem is growing, the number of Big Sisters and Big Brothers should be growing as well. Large-scale responses may be necessary to improve children’s futures, but Big Brothers Big Sisters is proven and ready.

“You may only be one person in the world, but you may be all the world to one child.”–Fr. William B. Wasson


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