Mentoring program will prepare Central students for life after high school

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


A new initiative known as the Mentoring Program is starting this year at Central Community School, with the purpose “to support students to be future ready through a collaborative relationship between adults and the students over the course of their high school career.” 


The idea behind the program started a few years ago, but was placed on the back burner during the pandemic. Central’s School Improvement Committee (SIAC) began pushing the idea forward once more in  spring 2021. 


One of the reasons, explained Central Principal Aaron Reinhart, is to bring certain aspects of schooling into the modern era. That includes experiences and expanded opportunities like more college classes, on the job training, job shadowing, mock interviews, resume building and hands-on learning. It’s an effort to update a model Reinhart said is “stuck in the 1990s” and no longer adequately prepares students for life after high school. 


Once it became apparent the idea would progress, the Building Leadership Team began working on how to implement the program, which was something of a challenge, mostly because there is not a comparable template or similar program Central could follow. 


According to Reinhart, there was a lot of “brainstorming” as ideas were discussed and altered along the way. One notable discussion revolved around which students to include. It first only included ninth through 11th graders, but after some discussion, it was expanded to 12th graders as well.


“It’s just as important for them to have some guidance the last few months,” just like everyone else, Reinhart stated.


Organizers also decided to allow students to pick their top five choices for a mentor, which could be any Central staff member—from teacher or coach to the administration. There is a maximum of five students per staff member. Both decisions were made mostly because the program is new and it’s still unclear what is manageable within the program. 


As Reinhart explained, “we don’t know how long this will take or all the details involved…we’re building this plane as we fly it.” 


The program also had to address the prospect of asking staff members to do more and find the time to do more with all their other goals and duties, while still providing a high quality education. When it comes to where this program falls on the list of priorities, Reinhart stated, “It should be high.”


“We’re asking educators to work with the students and parents in a very close setting…in a very collaborative environment. And you’re asking them to develop four-year plans…and maximize their experiences in high school to prepare them for what we would call post-secondary success,” Reinhart added. 


Reinhart noted there are possible solutions to meet the increased demand on staff time, such as utilizing empty slots in parent teacher conferences and providing flexibility during the staff’s professional learning sessions on Fridays. However, Reinhart also expressed that, while this will help accommodate some of the needed time, part of the program’s purpose is to have more natural interactions and incorporate the time spent with the student within the setting of the naturally occurring day, as opposed to always relying on scheduled meetings.


Within this program, the mentor and student each have a role to fill with certain expectations. According to Reinhart, the role of the mentor involves building relationships, listening to the student, asking questions about goals and plans, empowering the student to take charge, guiding the student while building confidence, opening new horizons or expanding possibilities, helping the student problem solve to achieve their goals and promoting long-term thinking. 


Students are encouraged to ask questions and take responsibility for their future while being open to new possibilities and being honest. Additionally, they are expected to empower mentors, improve leadership skills and set goals for the future. 


The goal of this program is to revolve around a student-led conversation about their areas of interest and their long-term goals with the assistance of a staff member, family and, if applicable, a community member that can be included to educate, inform or work with a student to advise them in a more individualized setting. 


One of the reasons behind this method is to “maximize students’ time at Central,” as Reinhart put it. Basically, it’s to create students who are college and career ready and increase the odds they are ready for that future. 


In terms of creating more efficiency and maximizing time, Reinhart discussed academic advising and conversations around future plans, and making sure those discussions occur with every student. As an example, maximizing time at Central would eliminate students taking unnecessary classes and making decisions based on their actual future goals rather than an assumption about what is needed. It’s about creating more specific goals and plans. 


One of the benefits Reinhart sees coming from this program is creating strong bonds between mentors and students, which should mean a stronger connection to the school and community. This also encompasses a mental health aspect, because connectedness leads to improved mental health, better grades and a sense of belonging. 


Staff members and students had a sense of optimism and enthusiasm about the program. Social studies teacher Ryan Zurbriggen, who will mentor five students, talked about some of the benefits, noting that students will have “caring adults that are there to facilitate, guide and help them be ready for their future.”


“As a teacher, this is a great opportunity to walk with a student and assist them as they grow into effective citizens of our society,” Zurbriggen added. “I am hopeful the students will grow in their leadership skills. In addition, their high school education can take on a very purposeful feel with guidance from trusted adults meeting with them regularly.”


Zurbriggen mentioned he was humbled and excited about the opportunity, and wants students to ultimately “grow as a person and as a leader” while helping them fulfill their four-year plan or future goals. 


“I hope they feel more confident about life after high school once they have gone through this process with their mentoring team.  Finally, I hope they can look back and appreciate all the people in their life that have come alongside them to become the people they are striving to be,” Zurbriggen said. 


English teacher Alison Patenaude echoed Zurbriggen’s sentiments, especially in how the program will benefit students as well as teachers.  


“The benefits of the program for the teacher definitely include being able to assist and further develop relationships with students. We won’t just be filling our role as teachers, but hopefully getting students to realize we are here to help guide them with some of the important decisions they’ll need to make in high school about courses and the future,” Patenaude said. “For the students, they’ll have a trusted adult in the building they can go to for advice and resources when it comes to planning for their futures.”


Paraeducator Hailey Funke gave a shout out to the team who put together the mentor program and included all staff members. 


“Not only do I feel honored to have been chosen to be a mentor, it also gives me much more purpose, fuels my passion and fills my bucket. I’m really looking forward to being on this adventure,” Funke said. 


But it’s not just staff who are excited about the opportunities. A few students expressed similar feelings. 


Sophomore Savannah Orr said she is “mostly looking forward to learning about how to set goals for myself and how to obtain them.”


“I am excited to have someone that helps me focus and reach my goals. Whenever I struggle, I know that they will help push me forward and they will help me look beyond the obstacle,” she continued. “I want to be able to be more confident in my decisions and know how to make the right ones.”


Added junior Macie Winters, “Personally, I’m looking forward to finally having someone to hold me accountable for my goals and making sure I stick to my plans…it’s a program used to help me finalize some plans or start to look deeper into my goals for college and what I plan to do. Since I’m a junior, I feel like time is ticking and I need to get ready for life after school.”

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