Peer Mentoring

This article was written by Ari Chapin, a junior in the journalism class here at U-32.

 

U-32 has a history of having a peer mentoring program, but according to Nate Lovitz, many years ago it “sort of fizzled” out. Nate Lovitz and Cairsten Keese are both U-32 school counselors and co-runners of the new peer mentoring program. In 2015, they worked together to get the program back up and running. “There is a need for some of our younger students to have some positive peer influences,” said Nate.

 

Many students, both mentors and mentees have enjoyed the program. “It’s been a good experience for both of us. He’s a really great kid. I really enjoyed my time with him,” said Cal Boyd, a U-32 high school junior speaking about his experience mentoring Chris, a middle school student.

 

Annabelle Morland has engaging meetings with her mentee. “I quite enjoy it because it’s a fun little chatting sesh and we get to play our games and have fun talking to each other.”

 

The mentor and mentee pair have the autonomy to choose what they do when they’re together one callback a week. According to Cal, “Sometimes we’ll play card games, but a lot of the time we just walk around and talk about life and stuff.”

 

Peer mentors have the autonomy to go where they want during their time together. (Ari Chapin/Chronicle)

 

In addition to playing games and hanging out, Addie Pasco sought academic help from her mentor. “[Maya Gould] helped me understand exactly what the classes were about, how much work would be done in them, and what the requirements are.” Addie and Maya were a mentor-mentee pair last year. “I could ask her questions about high school or middle school, and she almost always had an answer.”

 

Madi Otis, a junior at U-32, was part of the program as a 7th grader and is now a mentor herself. “I remember asking so many questions about high school,” she said, recalling the time when she was a mentee.

 

There are several ways for middle schoolers to find the peer mentoring program. Teachers and TAs can recommend their students to be a mentee and transition meetings from sixth to seventh grade can identify students who want some extra support. Nate and Cairsten primarily get high school mentors at the beginning of the year when TAs identify students who would be strong peer mentors, who are then offered the opportunity. Also, any student can individually ask Nate or Cairsten to be part of the program.

 

When high school mentors are identified, Nate sets up a day to train everyone in the ways of peer mentoring. According to Nate, it’s usually “like a full day in-school field trip.” But in recent years there have been many students who return, and Nate has been able to end the training by lunchtime. During the training, Nate prepares the mentors by having them reflect on what challenges they faced in middle school and encouraging returners to talk about their experience with peer mentoring.

 

Resources provided by student services that peer mentor groups frequently use. (Ari Chapin/Chronicle)

 

Cal, a first-time mentor this year, didn’t have too much trouble with the training because he is interested in and has learned about child care and developmental psychology. “I had a lot of background knowledge in that already, so doing the training was fun and not super difficult.” But even with the prior experience and interest, Cal felt that it was worth it to attend. “It was very comprehensive and prepared me for pretty much everything I would encounter.”

 

The mentor-mentee relationship can sometimes bring up difficult topics. As part of the training, Nate warns the high school mentors that the middle schoolers might bring up things related to personal safety or substance use at home. He tells the mentors, “Your job is to tell an adult whether it’s Cairsten or I or Jade or Jen or your TA.”

 

With this advice, Nate ensures that the peer mentoring program is a safe environment for both the mentor and mentee. “It really draws a strong boundary for the kid of ‘hey, I care about you. And because I care about you, I’m going to share with an adult who can make sure that you’re safe or you’re getting the support you need.’”

 

At the end of the year, the peer mentoring program culminates with a celebration. “It’s an end to those relationships in a healthy way, which is nice,” said Nate. He also has seen many high schoolers feeling like they’re not doing much, but the middle schoolers really appreciate the time. “[We’ve heard] ‘it doesn’t feel like I’m doing much,’ and then at the end, they’ll get some lovely letter written [by their mentee].”

 

Josephine Mikus and her mentee playing checkers in the U-32 Atrium. (Ari Chapin/Chronicle)

 

Madi recommends participating in the peer mentoring program to everyone. “It’s really fun. [The middle schoolers aren’t] scary.” Nate and Cairsten pair the mentors with mentees and Madi said that “they did a really great job at pairing similar people.”

 

After all the years he’s spent training the mentors and seeing the relationships form, Nate said, “It does have a positive impact on our community, and it’s awesome to see that happen.”

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