By Michelle Miller
---- — Cooperstown Central School recently kicked off its annual mentor program where high schoolers take middle schoolers under their wings.
“I’m looking forward to getting more knowledge, my mentor helps me study,” seventh-grader Leslie Boyles said.
According to Boyles, the mentor program is also helping her meet new people and enables her to spend more time with older students.
“I see my mentor as like an older sister,” Boyles explained. “I spend time with her every other day. When I have lunch she has art, so I go in and work on projects and talk with her then.”
The program has 39 mentors and is coordinated by Shannon Merwin. The high school students are intensively trained on the campus of the State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill. Activities included in mentoring but not limited to are: Daily journaling between mentor and mentee, ice-breaker activities after school, homework help and peer encouragement and support.
According to CCS counselor Katie Baldo, the mentor program is financially and professionally supported through the district’s participation in College for Every Student. CFES is a nonprofit organization committed to raising the academic aspirations and performance of today’s youth so that they can prepare for, gain access to and succeed in college. Baldo said The Clark Foundation has generously afforded CCS and other local districts the opportunity to reap the benefits of such an organization.
Mentorship is one of three practices that are essential to the CFES’ mission, according to Baldo. She said the other two practices include leadership through service and pathways to college.
“The service component is met through our mentor program and we have a comprehensive career/college model, K-12, that lends itself to pathways to college. The culminating event of our pathways to college initiative is providing all of our fifth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students an opportunity to visit a college campus every year,” Baldo said.
The hope is to foster academic and personal growth and to establish connections that bridge transitions for students during their school career, she continued.
Last year, according to Baldo, the students visited the Museum of Science and Technology and were able to view the 3D version of Polar Express.
“In addition, a trip to Interskate 88 was scheduled last year as another opportunity to celebrate the relationships formed through mentoring,” she said. “Students also grew bulbs to plant at Woodside Hall in the spring. The plan is to continue this activity and to give back to the community. Past service includes assisting the Kid Garden located at the elementary school and sending holiday cards to in-patients at Bassett. We are excited that this year’s kickoff event is a trip to Howes Caverns that is taking place on Nov. 27.”
Merwin said the mentor program especially eases the transition for students moving from one building to the other. The elementary school houses kindergarten through sixth graders, whereas a year ago the sixth graders were included in the middle/high school.
Mae Loewenguth was among students who made the transition from the elementary school to the middle/high school this year. She said the mentor program has helped ease that process.
“I’m becoming more familiar with the older kids. I was used to being the oldest in the elementary school,” she said.
“I’m also gaining confidence with interacting with others,” she added.
Junior Aaron Idelson said he has two mentees, a seventh-grader and an eighth-grader.
“My sister was a mentee two years ago and had a great experience, so I wanted to do it,” he said.
The first-year mentor said his friends also encouraged him to get involved.
“It has given me a better attitude toward the younger students and has taught me patience,” he said. “I feel I have become more open toward the younger kids I don’t really know.”
Mentor Joseph Harmon said he just loves helping others and felt the program was a good way to do that.
The junior is a member of Leo Club, his church’s youth group and he served as a hospital volunteer this past summer.
According to Harmon, mentors get to make up their own schedules with mentees. Some meet during school hours, but because his free time does not match up with his mentees’, he said they meet after school.
“My goal is to give my mentee a great experience and have him feel like the program is worthwhile,” Harmon said.
Right now, the program involves high school and middle school students. However, Baldo said the district plans to start a K-6 program in another month or two.
One thing Baldo said she has seen as a result of the mentor program is improved attendance rates at school.
“Students want to make sure they are meeting with their mentors,” she said. “They don’t want to miss a day when they might potentially be doing something fun.”