By Briana Kerensky, Communities In Schools National Office
The beginning of January is always a time of self-reflection. We look back at the past year to evaluate what we accomplished (or maybe didn’t accomplish) and create resolutions for the new year. We promise ourselves we will exercise more, read more books, and spend less time in front of televisions and computers. We pledge that we will do more to make our lives better and more fulfilling. And what’s more fulfilling than helping others achieve?
While January is a month to make personal resolutions, it’s also National Mentoring Month. It’s when we thank the people who inspire us and give us the strength to reach our goals, and take the time to consider how we can be positive role models for others.
At Communities In Schools of Whatcom County, Wash., students are dedicated to being mentors throughout the school year. For the past three years, seniors at Sehome High School have been paired with incoming freshmen to help them with homework, projects and navigating the path to graduation. This year, 71 seniors are acting as mentors.
“Our peer mentoring has an academic focus,” said Communities In Schools of Whatcom County Executive Director Dennis D’Amelio. “But beyond that, mentors get to sit down with their mentees and talk about everything important to kids that they might not want to talk about with an adult.”
All mentors participating in the program are interviewed and thoroughly trained before being paired with their mentees. They’re taught how to help freshmen with their homework, how to ask important questions and what to do if they feel like their mentee needs more support than they can provide. Student academic progress is tracked and Communities In Schools staff and school counselors know if anyone needs additional resources. Student safety, both mentor and mentee, is also very important.
“We train our mentors to be aware of potential issues and if they see something to ask for help,” D’Amelio said. “If a mentee mentions potential abuse or neglect, the mentor informs Communities In Schools staff and they bring in school counselors.”
Sehome High School’s mentoring program doesn’t just help freshmen – the seniors acting as mentors benefit as well. In Washington, serving the community is a requirement for graduation. Acting as a mentor qualifies, and helps students get a step closer to receiving a diploma. But many of the students who participate are there for more than the credit – they’re there for the experience of being a positive role model and helping others.
“Kids can give back,” D’Amelio said. “We have dynamic student leaders.”
Learn more about Communities In Schools of Whatcom County’s peer mentoring program in this great feature by The Bellingham Herald.
This post originally appeared in Beyond the Classroom.