High school seniors serve as mentors for young students
Every hour, two or three seniors walk through the front door of Tonganoxie Elementary School, ready to help out. They check in at the office first.
In the hallway, children smile and wave.
Tonganoxie seniors are mentoring this spring at the elementary school for the second consecutive semester. The seniors, who receive high school credit for their participation, have the time to give extra attention to students who need help.
They sit out in the hallway helping students with reading. They tutor students in math and help them learn the 50 states of the Union. Through their own academic achievement they present a positive model of what a student can be. And, they are the big kids.
Tammie George, administrative assistant at the elementary school, and Darren Neas, assistant principal at the high school, worked together to initiate the program last fall.
The program has been a positive experience for the elementary school students and the high school students said George.
"I haven't heard a single negative thing," she said.
All the senior mentors are great role models, said Neas, and they learn a lot from the younger students.
The program has been so successful that it will continue next year and be listed as an offering in the high school coursebook.
Next year, seniors will have to apply to the program. The contracts they sign require them to be on time, consistent and serve as positive examples. At the end of the semester the mentors are graded by the elementary school teachers they helped, based on behavior, appearance, attendance and student contact, said George.
Neas said he thought it was good for the seniors to experience a helping role in addition to the standard high school curriculum.
The seniors seem to like it, too.
Brett Becker, 18, said he thought that his tutoring has made a difference to some of the sixth-grade students he helped. Becker, who has mentored both semesters this year, said he had seen some of the students he worked with improve by the end of the first semester. He is leery about giving himself the credit, though. The kids work hard too.
The mentors primarily tutor in academics. But the program is also about making a connection between the age groups. It is about having somebody to look up to.
Neil Rieger, 18, said that although the mentoring program isn't related to his plans after high school, he has really enjoyed getting to know the kids he works with.
One day when he was at work at the lumberyard, Rieger said, a fifth-grade student he mentors came in just to hang out and drink a soda.
Becker even got a birthday surprise from his class this year. Becker, who was Tonganoxie's 1999 Homecoming King, said he received a birthday card from his class saying, "Happy Birthday to the King."
Individual attention can be especially important in a large school. The elementary school has the job of teaching 695 students, according to its administrative office. George said that the school tried to keep the number of students per class low in the primary grades to make learning easier. Grades four to six all have five sections and average from 20 to 26 students, said George.
With so many students in their fundamental years of learning, the extra help really matters.
Participating seniors and the grade levels they work with are:
Rebecca Clinger, third; Candace Carty, fourth; Sarah Gripka, first; Jared Walters, sixth; Adam Bundy, second; Sarah Poje, kindergarten; Stacy Burns, first; Neil Rieger, fifth; Brett Becker, sixth; Scott Aligo, third; Tabatha Correll, second; and Hannah Davoren, kindergarten.