Peer mentors create school success storiesAn hour a week has the power to change attitudes and grades at Superior High School — and it may be featured as a success story by the state Department of Public Instruction.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
An hour a week has the power to change attitudes and grades at Superior High School — and it may be featured as a success story by the state Department of Public Instruction.
The Senior Mentors program pairs freshmen struggling with the transition to high school with successful seniors. They meet weekly during the Tuesday and Thursday advisory periods to look over homework and build academic skills.
“It’s so important for ninth graders to be successful,” said Counselor Kelly Bergum. “Otherwise, they’re catching up” in following years.
Last week, the ninth-graders shared successes of their own to cap off the first semester. Lyssa Aho was on the B honor roll. Anthony LeMay got an A in math. Despite two weeks on vacation, Gianna Brokaw turned in all her homework. Each accomplishment was met with applause and rewarded with a donut. The program, freshmen say, has made a difference.
“I like that I have people that I know here,” Aho said.
“They help me with everything,” LeMay said. “It’s really great.”
Mentors gain from the program too. Morgan Sannes thought getting involved would be a good opportunity to pass on some of his knowledge of high school to up-and-coming students. He found it was fun too.
“I love it; I love spending time with these guys,” Sannes said.
“I’m learning things, too,” said fellow senior Alexandra Ledin.
A pilot program was launched last school year by Bergum and teachers Marc Campbell and Jackie Olson. One advisory group of freshmen paired with seniors. While the school has had other tutoring programs, Senior Mentors targeted students most in need of assistance and added senior students to the equation, Campbell said. The peer-to-peer investment brought a new dynamic.
Taylor Southerton thought school was stupid and pointless. Then he was paired with Eric Quam.
“He was always making me check my PowerSchool,” the sophomore said. “He made it more fun to get my grades up.”
PowerSchool is an online resource for students and parents showing grades, attendance and detailed reports of scores and assignments for each class.
Brittany Smith said her mentor, Markie Nelson, taught her to use her planner, check PowerSchool and stay organized.
“Having those older students give you those tips helped a lot,” she said. The habits have stayed with her; the sophomore is on the B honor roll.
Alek Wallin learned similar study habits and motivation from his mentor, Alex Tunell. The sophomore said Tunell even spent time outside of advisory to help him with Spanish class.
“They were proud of you for getting your grades up,” Wallin said.
Since they were still at SHS, Southerton said, the mentors could check up and make sure you really did turn your work in. They also provided a friendly face in the hallway.
“They actually talked to us” and they cared, Smith said.
All three sophomores are counting down the years until they can become mentors.
Seniors who took part in last year’s pilot got as much out of the program as the freshmen.
“Of all the things I was a part of and/or involved in during high school nothing was as rewarding as the ninth grade mentoring program,” said Alicia Stack, who graduated in 2011. It prompted her to mentor elementary school children while attending college.
“Seeing my mentees and other ninth graders in the program succeed and take pride in their school work made it all worth it,” Stack said. “Even if these kids weren’t getting A’s they were trying and doing their work and being accountable, which is something that will stick with those ninth graders for the rest of high school, hopefully college, and eventually the work force.”
Although he had to give up advisory time that could have been used for homework, Tunell found he didn’t mind because he was able to be a positive influence for another student.
“I still talk to Alek when I can, to check up and make sure he is still motivated in his classes,” Tunell said. “That’s what the senior mentor program brings to SHS; it brings a dedicated group of seniors to set an example and give an extra level of accountability to the freshman who need that extra push.”
The pilot program was so successful that it spread to encompass three advisories this year.
“We have found no down side or negative things about the program,” Campbell said. “Everyone involved; advisors, ninth graders, mentors, teachers on teams, teachers outside the teams, and parents of both the mentors and ninth graders have said it is successful and positive.” It has the added benefits of introducing freshmen to the senior-level teachers who are involved and letting freshmen teachers see former students again. And there was no cost to run it, other than the occasional purchase of donuts and T-shirts for the mentors.
The program caught the eye of state Department of Public Instruction staff during a fall visit to the high school.
“It looked like a great program,” said Brenda Jennings, educational consultant with the Safe and Supportive Schools Project. What set it apart, she said, was that quarterly data was used to pinpoint a need to support some ninth grade students coming into the high school. Mentors focused on skills that students needed to be successful and the program included support from advisors and teachers.
Jennings said she plans to highlight the program as a Success Story to other schools throughout the state. That could lead to calls or visits from other school district’s hoping to duplicate the program.