Katy ISD’s KEYS – 25 Years Of Making A Difference


JoAnn and Bill Brown, Dawn Brown Benjamin and Mary Castellucci, Seven Lakes High School (SLHS) KEYS Program Coordinator, after Mr. Brown received the SLHS 2015 KEYS Mentor of the Year Award.

Twenty-five years ago, the Katy Independent School District’s Keep Encouraging Youth Towards Success (KEYS) Mentoring Program was formed to bring adult role models into campuses with the aim of motivating and making a positive difference in the lives of students facing the biggest risk factors impacting school success.

“The friendship and time that a mentor gives to their KEYS student can be priceless,” said Heather Sanders, KEYS Program Coordinator. “When a student feels that someone is paying attention, cares and is there for them, it can make all the difference.”

KEYS are typically kindergarten through twelfth grade students who have experienced challenges with absences, grades, discipline referrals or family circumstances.  It is a relationship, not a tutoring program, that matches a caring adult with a student on the brink of success. Mentors meet with their students each week, on campus, during the school day, during the school year. They are matched with a student based on common interest and shared background when possible and are given the opportunity to indicate grade level and campus preferences on the KEYS application.

In 2010, Dawn Benjamin, a recently retired Katy ISD elementary staff member, encouraged her father to become a substitute in the District.  It was during his time substituting at the district’s junior high and high schools that he learned about the KEYS program.

“When I recently retired, I was thinking about the activities I wanted to be involved in, and I was reminded by my father about how much he loved being involved in KEYS,” Benjamin said. “He inspired me to become a mentor. He had two mentees, and he formed such a lasting bond with them that they still talk today. It is a very special bond to witness, between mentor and mentee.”

Benjamin explained that each mentoring relationship is different. “That is the beauty of the program,” she said.  “Some people tutor their students, while others spend their time playing games, and others talk about next steps after high school. The most important part is that you are there to be a good contact for that student, someone in their corner that they can rely on and confide in,” Benjamin added.

Saikat Basu, a Global Manager at an energy services company, has been a volunteer in the KEYS program for over three years and a Katy ISD resident for 15 years. Basu was familiar with the process and had participated in other mentorship programs, but he was looking for an outlet in Katy to plug into.  After an initial information session, he was excited to get involved and meet his KEYS mentee.

“My mentee had returned back from years spent abroad,” recalled Basu. “A hybrid foreign-national student, he was born in the Houston area but moved with his mother overseas in elementary school. When he returned, as a high school freshman, he had a hard time adjusting, and his grades were affected,” he said.

Among an abundance of life challenges that teenagers face, Basu’s mentee also did not have the support and companionship of a father figure at home.   

“This mentorship meant so much to him. It showed him that he could count on me every week to help him talk through his struggles, almost like an adult friend.  I would listen to him and provide him with a consistent and stable friendship that he could count on to be there for him,” Basu said.

Basu and his mentee continued their mentorship for all four years of high school. His mentee’s grades picked up, he joined campus programs, such as Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and excelled in high school.

“I would always tell my mentee that I have learned equal, if not more, from this experience than he has,” said Basu. “I would encourage everyone to volunteer with KEYS. There is so much more for the volunteer to receive, and there are many students who need someone to show them how much they believe in them.”

The KEYS Mentoring program is offered at every Katy ISD campus, each of which has a staff liaison who oversees the school’s program. All mentors must make a one school year commitment to a student and complete an application and background check.

KEYS Mentoring

The KEYS Mentor Program (Keep Encouraging Youth towards Success) matches a caring adult with a student on the brink of success once a week, during the school day, throughout the school year. Each week, mentors go to campuses across the district to spend time with their KEYS kids talking, playing games, reading books and planning futures. With the faithful gift of time and encouragement, a mentor can empower their KEYS kid to dig deeper, casting an improved life vision fueled by renewed confidence in themselves and their abilities.

KEYS serves students at every Katy ISD campus with meaningful results. By consistently serving as a guide and role model, mentors produce measurable impact on their students.

 KEYS places approximately 900 mentors at Katy ISD schools each year

  • KEYS places approximately 900 mentors at Katy ISD schools each year
  • 84% of KEYS students increased grades
  • 86% of KEYS students decreased discipline referrals
  • 77% of KEYS students decreased absences

Young adults who were at-risk for falling off track, but had a mentor are:*

  • 55% more likely to enroll in college
  • 78% more likely to volunteer regularly
  • 90% are interested in becoming a mentor
  • 130% more likely to hold leadership positions

*Reference: The National Mentoring Partnership / www.mentoring.org

Steps to Become a KEYS Mentor

1.  Commit to spending time with a student each week for one school year.

2. Review, understanding and agree to KEYS program expectations

3.  Complete the comprehensive KEYS mentor application and pass the required background check.

4.  Complete KEYS 101 – New Mentor Training (either in person or online).

KEYS Events and Training

KEYS 101 – New Mentor Training must be completed either in person or online before mentoring can begin.

Online Training – Takes about 30 minutes – must be completed in one session, or you will need to create an account with a password.

OR choose one of the following in-person district training options.

September 20, 2019 • 8 – 9:30 am
KEYS Kick Off (RSVP posted at a later date)

October 1, 2019 • 12:30 – 1:30 pm
Merrell Center

KEYS U – Current mentors optional training.
Topic to be announced.

December 14, 2019 • 8:30 – 9:30 am
Merrell Center

(RSVP posted at a later date)

To learn more or apply, visit the KEYS website: http://www.katyisd.org/dept/pie/Pages/KEYSMentoring.aspx

or contact Katy ISD KEYS Program Coordinator Heather Sanders at 281-396-2468 or heatherasanders@katyisd.org