The Rome City School District’s pilot mentoring program, aimed at helping elementary school children in need, has received a “thumbs up” from Mentoring USA, a leading national mentoring organization that helps children achieve their full potential.

During a visit to Rome on Wednesday, Mentoring USA Executive Director Stephen Powell applauded Rome school officials for partnering with the national mentoring group, noting that “thumbs up” as a result of participating in the school-based, one-to-one mentoring project.

Powell also praised the volunteer mentors, who are paired with students for 60 to 90 minutes every week during the school year to have discussions and work on projects with the students.

“These dedicated volunteers donate their time and energy because they believe in offering positive, life-changing opportunities to the children,” Powell said. “They believe they can make a difference in the life of every child.”

Jason P. Evangelist, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning and Accountability (Pre-K-4), who oversees the mentoring pilot with Gansevoort Elementary School teacher Wendy Hutchings, said he is also very pleased with the progress of the program, which currently is comprised of eight 4-grade students and eight volunteer mentors.

“Our assessment to date is that there is a noticeable, positive difference in the behavior and interaction of the students,” Evangelist noted. “They are connecting with their mentors in meaningful ways ‚Äì changes that hopefully will serve them well as they continue to grow.”

He said the pilot project would again be evaluated in the spring to determine its overall effectiveness. Should it prove successful, the Rome school district could consider expanding it so that more children are able to participate in the mentoring activities during the 2014-15 school year.

Former New York First Lady Matilda Raffa Cuomo founded Mentoring USA in 1995, modeled after the New York State Mentoring Program that she established as First Lady during the 1980s. She currently serves as chair of the non-profit organization.

Under Mrs. Cuomo’s direction, Mentoring USA now partners with schools, community centers, foster care agencies, businesses, and other social services organizations across the country, and has expanded internationally through affiliate mentoring programs in Europe and the Mediterranean region.

Mentoring USA was first brought to the attention of Simons and Evangelist last year by Frank P. Di Berardino III of Rome, Director of the National Bellamy Award Organization, who has worked with Mrs. Cuomo on various educational projects over a period of almost 30 years.

Rome school officials then sought and received approval for the pilot project from the Board of Education in the fall of 2013. The program began last October and is scheduled to conclude at the end of May.