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Someone to talk to

LAST YEAR Carolyn Bruce considered dropping out of college. After a successful National Certificate course, she found the leap up to Higher National Certificate computing daunting and began to feel it was getting too much. A year on, not only is she still on the course, but she is helping others through the same worries as part of a peer mentoring scheme at Forth Valley College in Falkirk.

"I came back into education at 40 and it was quite a jump up to the HNC,"

the 42-year-old says. "I thought about leaving, but I went to mediation guidance and had a chat with them. When I was stressed, I couldn't have ap-proached a lecturer because I didn't want to say 'I can't do this'."

Forth Valley's scheme aims to spare students that embarrassment by providing a fellow student to talk to. Open to students with additional support needs, it selects mentors from a similar course, a year above, so they can use their own experience as guidance.

Over the past four years, 24 people have been trained as peer mentors and the scheme is being expanded to the college's Clack-mannan and Stirling campuses. Training is scenario-based. Men-tors are presented with issues they may encounter and given options for dealing with them. They are also given guidance as to when issues, such as personal problems, should be passed on, to avoid them getting out of their depth.

Aleksandra Young says she would probably have dropped out of her NC sport and recreation course, had it not been for the support of her mentor. The 26-year-old, who has dyslexia, already has a scribe to help with her written work, but the added input of her mentor, who is on the HNC in sport and exercise science, is invaluable. The pair meet once a fortnight working through computer packages and helping to organise coursework: "Sometimes my workload is heavy and she can help me write things. I would probably have left, had it not been for her."

Julie Cully, 46, is in her second year of a BA in design. Her mentor is in the year above, studying for a degree in fine graphics. They meet for half-an-hour every Friday.

Julie found moving straight onto the second year of a degree from an HND difficult, both in terms of coursework and because social groups among her fellow students had already been set. "I lost my focus and my marks weren't as good as they could have been. My mentor put me back on track and I just got a distinction, 82 per cent, for my last project - from 57 per cent,"

she says.

"We talk things through and my mentor has given me guidance on how to focus on my work. The mentor is a friendly face - sometimes it's not easy to approach a lecturer. They don't always have time."

It's not all one-way traffic. The mentors also benefit from the scheme.

Carolyn says she was attracted to it as a way of boosting her self-confidence. "When you break it down and go through it with them, they realise it's not as bad as they thought."

Marguerite McCreath, the Learning Through Partnership co-ordinator, organises the one-day training course which coaches mentors on boundaries, confidentiality issues, child protection and action planning. "Mentors can gain great satisfaction from helping others, in addition to developing their personal communication and relationship skills. They can also improve their own ability to focus and organise their studies.

"For the students, the support can be invaluable to their studies, academically and emotionally. Having someone to talk to, who has been through a similar experience and faced the same challenges, can be advantageous."

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