Seventh grade is hard enough on its own, yet there is a handful of neighborhood kids who last May finished seventh and eighth grade in the same year.

Fortunately, these students from Gaston Middle School weren’t in it alone. Many of them had neighborhood mentors who coached them through the difficult year.

The East Dallas Chamber of Commerce provided 18 of the 24 mentors who helped, says Mary Cain, former chamber president.

The middle school is using the new 2-Plus Program, which takes over-aged students and puts them in classes with combined seventh- and eighth-grade curriculums, so they are able to enter the ninth-grade with their own age group, says Iris Lumpkin, a teacher at the middle school.

The mentors support the students during the demanding year and try to keep them focused on academics, Cain says.

“You don’t know what goes on in a kid’s life to make them not perform how they should,” says David Hill, a volunteer mentor who heard about the program through a co-worker at Texas Utilities.

When asked what the mentor program is all about, Hill’s student, David Parker, replied: “It’s making a new friend.”

The volunteers meet with the students once a week for 45 minutes. If a volunteer learns the child is dealing with serious problems, they refer the child to a counselor, who is trained to deal with those situations, Cain says.

“All you are is a friend, a role model, someone to care, and someone for them to talk to,” Cain says.

Mentor participants for the 1995/96 school year were: Carol Allen, Occupational Health Centers; Jennifer Barrow, Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce; Mary A. Cain, East Dallas Chamber of Commerce; Shanna Clausen, Occupational Health Centers; Cynthia Cortez, City of Dallas; Nancy Crowe, Doctors Hospital-Sports & Industry Care; Neil Delk, Occupational Health Centers; Susan Enarson, Lone Star Gas Co.; Eric Ernst, Savings of America; Helen Ethridge, Dept. of Justice-AntiTrust Division; Charlotte Herr, A.G. Edwards and Sons Inc.; David Hill, TU Electric; Janet Hunt, St. Matthias’ Church; Barbara Kelly, Lakeland Hills Homeowners Association; Doug Kennedy, Oracle Corp.; Lynn Martin, TU Electric; Mike Martin, I2 Technologies; Mike Pappas, Dallas County Constable; Wendy Reese, YMCA White Rock-Lake Highlands; Elizabeth Rivera, A.G. Edwards and Sons Inc.; Linda Watson, Labhart and Co.; and Michael Graetz, TU Electric.

Students participating were: D’Wan Burnley, Genevea Cervantes, Kelvin Coleman, Daniel Godina, Michael Guerrero, Veronica Gutierrey, Takisha Henes, Erika Jeffrey, Rodney Lindsay, Patty Mesenburg, Janelle Myrick, Jerome Myrick, Dat Ngu, Nu Nguyen, Juan C. Pacheco, David Parker, Alfredo Resendiz, Carlos Salinas, Richard Sims, Deserea Smith, Cedric Steele, Myia Stubblefield, Anthony Walton, and Marcus Williams.

Volunteers are needed for the 1996/97 school year. Call 321-6446 for information.