Understanding that schools can be a powerful force in shaping the social and emotional lives of young people, faculty and staff at West Vincent Elementary School explored ways to build community and help students feel connected to caring adults. As a team, they came up with a mentor program which would help students work on important relationship skills. They created small student groups and involved every available adult in the building. Sarah Weber, the school’s guidance counselor, explained, “We hope to bridge boundaries between generations, provide a source of accountability, encouragement, and support. Most of all, we want to empower each student by giving them more of a voice.” The goal was to have consistent adults act as group mentors over the scope of each child’s experience, first through sixth grade, and for each student to establish a core base of friends who may not be in their typical sphere of influence.
The program kicked off in September with the theme “filling buckets.” Working in small groups, adults facilitated introductions while each student shared an attribute or strength. The facilitator followed up by asking, “What are the benefits of knowing your own and each other’s strengths?” and “In what ways can you use this information this year?” After a teambuilding ice-breaker and discussion, students had the opportunity to create a personal shield (like a family crest) and life motto. The next mentor session will add a citizenship component with a focus on veterans and the larger community. West Vincent staff members believe that the mentor program can provide an additional way for students to establish trusting relationships. They have been encouraged by evidence that students have expanded their circle of friends. In addition, several students have made an effort to check in with mentors at various times outside of an official mentor meeting.