Mentorship can change a student’s life

If you could positively impact a student’s life by donating one hour of your time each week, would you do it?

Some in the Shelton school district believe that the relationship formed between a mentor and a mentee can have a positive impact on both people’s lives.

Superintendent of Shelton Schools Dr. Chris Clouet said based on his experience as a mentor, he supports the theory that mentorship has positive impacts on both parties. Clouet is currently the mentor for a third grader at Long Hill School.

“I love working directly with kids. It’s a great way to make a connection, and in a world where we lack that, we can learn from them, too. I learn from this young student and about his view of the world and what he’s passionate about,” said Clouet.

Shelton’s mentor program coordinator for the past 17 years, Valerie Knight-DiGangi, said she’s believed in the effects of the program since it was created nearly 18 years ago. According to Knight-DiGangi, the program was originally created by former Shelton Superintendent Leon Sylvester and used to be run by former Mohegan school Principal Red Larson.

A person who is committed to the program, such as Clouet, serves an important role for a child who is “going through a difficult time in his or her young life,” according to Knight-DiGangi.

“These dedicated individuals are the heart and soul of the Shelton Mentoring Program, and serve as positive role models for their mentees,” said Knight-DiGangi who added that she’s personally been with the same mentee for a number of years now. “For many of these children, they just want to have somebody that they can share some things with, talk about their days. It means the world to a lot of them. … Personally, this has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life and career.”

Clouet said he meets with his mentee each week during their hour-long lunch period to play checkers, Jenga, or Stratego while talking about their life goals. The superintendent said the time they spend together each week, although it isn’t a long period of time, is productive and is centered on offering guidance based on his experience.

He added that it’s difficult for the mentees to immediately realize the impact of a good relationship with their mentor, but he believes they’re being positively affected.

“They don’t have that sense of what is the impact, but I do know, based on core research on this issue, that kids that are absent a lot do come to school more on the days that their mentor is supposed to meet with them,” said Clouet. “Through this program we are seeing better attendance and are providing the students with an opportunity to learn from the adult perspective.

“It’s not tutoring, it’s not therapy, it’s just two people talking to each other and interacting with each other to benefit the kids, but also to send a message to other people that no matter how busy you are, and I’m very busy, for just one hour a week you can make a big impact on a student.”

Shelton resident Tom Christiano, who has been a mentor for the past four years, said he mentored one student from eighth grade until junior year at Shelton High.

“I wanted to continue to do something positive with my life aside from working my butt off for so many years,” said Christiano, who is now retired. “I was on the road for a lot of the time while my kids were growing up. Now that I’m retired I have more time to give to young kids, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Christiano said his reason for remaining in the program is the self-fulfillment it gives him.

“If I can help the student even in the slightest, I feel like a great person. What I want to do is give them the most bang for the buck for his development and future,” said Christiano. “I just like being another leg on the table and being another person to help keep everything going in the right direction.”

Knight-DiGangi said being paired with a student is a matter of filling out forms and trial and error.

“The kids have to want to be in the program,” said Knight-DiGangi. “The family must agree as well, the mentors must undergo a background check, and fingerprinting is mandatory. I also run a two-hour training to teach new mentors tips and techniques to work with their students. But no experience working with kids is necessary, only the desire to make a difference in a child’s life.”

Knight-DiGangi said the pairing process is based on the application, and similar interests.

“You are paired with the child and will stay with them as long as your schedule permits,” said Knight-DiGangi.

For more information about how to get involved with the Shelton mentor program, contact Valerie Knight-DiGangi at 203-924-1023, ext. 336, or