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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Student Mentoring Program

Last week I blogged about an amazing day I had. (http://spartansocialstudies.blogspot.com/2015/09/what-day.html)    This day included working with our student mentors.  I had many requests to explain the program, so here you go! :)

In the Spring, we request staff members to nominate upperclassmen (current Sophomores and Juniors) who exhibit Spartan spirit, leadership qualities, dedication to their studies (does not have to be one of the top students) and who are respected by the faculty, staff and student body.  Based on those recommendations, I send out invitations to become a mentor.  It is rare that we have a student not accept the invitation.

Once I have a list of students, they sign up for the Remind group and we continue to monitor them to make sure that the qualities that got them invited do not take a sharp turn for the worse.  (We have never encountered this, but we are diligent for the sake of the program).

During the summer we have a training session that introduces the students to the program.  I'm going to explain the program to you as I would do for them.

We have 9th grade only study halls every period of the day.  The mentors, based on their availability, are assigned to a study hall.  Next, I assign two students to push into AIS sections in Math and English.  Next, I assign 4-5 students to be in the lunch room.  Lastly, I assign students to our 10th period (Activity period).

Here's what the responsibilities of each entail:

Study hall: the mentors create lessons based on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Leadership and Anti-Bullying initiatives (Here is the calendar: https://goo.gl/dmWZ20).  These lessons need to be engaging and 5-10 minutes in length.  Each day they deliver a new lesson/activity, that they created, based on the theme of that week.  After that, they work with the students on any homework that they owe (we are able to generate what we call the Owed List from Power School that identifies each student who has an assignment that the teacher has indicated is missing).  They also tutor students who are struggling.  The most important part of this interaction are the relationships that are built, the trust that is gained and the sense of belonging that the 9th graders now have.  How cool is it when the captain of the football team makes it his mission to make you feel welcome in HS?  How cool is it when the Valedictorian is willing to help you on your Spanish homework?  I could go on about every activity and every sports team because they are all represented in our mentor group. Eventually, if a student is continually struggling, they are pulled out of study hall for one on one tutoring with one of the mentors in a quiet location.  Once they show improvement, they have the option to opt out of the tutoring or to continue it.  Surprisingly, most choose to continue the tutoring. The lessons go for the first 10 weeks and then it is the focus of the mentors to support the 9th graders in whatever they need.  Need help approaching a faculty member? They help with that.  Need help figuring out where your classes are next semester? They help with that.  It's kind of like "there's an app for that."  "There's a mentor for that!"

AIS: Students do basically what is described above, but they also help the AIS teacher by providing targeted tutoring.

Lunch: We found this to be so beneficial, we were bummed we hadn't thought of it earlier!  The mentors in here are tasked with making sure no one sits alone and that they mingle with all of the kids (but mostly the 9th graders).  They sit at different tables each day and get to know the kids at the table.  They answer questions, provide guidance, help with homework, etc.  They are our eyes and ears on the ground (as are all the mentors) since a lot of problems manifest themselves in the lunchroom.  We had an example the very first day.  We had a student who has anger management problems come out with his lunch and was about to have one of his epic meltdowns heard round the world because he couldn't find a seat.  One of our kids instantly saw this and went to him and asked him to sit with them.  The entire incident took about 20 seconds, but it saved a meltdown and all that would have come with that in the cafeteria.

10th period: Our mentors that typically do not have a free period are assigned (based on their preference) to one or two days a week to tutor kids who need assistance or are in need of guidance. Just yesterday,  I had an email from two teachers regarding 4 kids who were struggling and needed a connection.  They have been assigned to stay with our mentors during 10th period.  10th period does not have the stigma of being a punitive assignment, it is simply an extension of the day.

During the training the students talk about how to have empathy, why it is so important, the role of the mentors, and conduct activities centered around anti-bullying.  The most important part of this program is the discussion about school culture and the role they have (in school and outside of it) in fostering a positive school culture.  I end with Kid President's Go Be More Awesome clip (I ask them to think of themselves as both the teacher and the student) (here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwlhUcSGqgs) and we use that as a montra each day.  How can we be more awesome than yesterday?

The things that make this entire system work:
1. The commitment our upperclassmen have to the culture of the building.  We do NOT have the stereotypical hierarchy in our building.  I say that with 100% confidence.  Don't believe me? I'll find as many kids as you want to talk to you about it.
2. We have what we call the Spartan Academy.  Once a month, all the teachers who teach 9th grade get together and talk about needs they see arising with the 9th graders and strategies that have worked in other classes.
3. Administration that is proactive and supportive.  I can't stress just how great our administration is! This starts at the top with the Superintendent as well as our building administrative staff.

It really does take a village!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at @mrsmurat or rmurat@me.stier.org.

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