Education Feature: Yucca students mentor new classmates

CNJ staff photo: Gabriel Monte Eighth-graders Zackary Smith, left, and Edith Mendez help younger pupils find their way around Yucca Middle School.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Eighth-graders Edith Mendez and Zackary Smith remembered their first year at Yucca Middle School: “When we came here, we were freaked out,” Edith said.

Finding their classrooms through the maze of the school hallway made it difficult to get to class.

“We were late to class a lot,” she said.

This year, the two students are part of a new student mentoring program at Yucca in which eighth-graders help seventh-graders find their way around school.

“Their job is to answer any questions seventh-graders might have,” said Yucca Principal Alan Dropps.

The student-mentors help the seventh-graders find their classrooms and figure out locker combinations. The eighth-graders also help their younger charges deal with problems they may be uncomfortable confiding in teachers and staff members about.

“Sometimes a kid is more likely to approach another student than they are to approach another adult,” Dropps said.

Most Clovis schools have buddy programs in which new students are paired with others to show them around campus, but the mentoring program is unique to Yucca, said Clovis Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm.

School counselor Glenna Maes said the program is the school’s way to help students transition from elementary school into the seventh grade, which means having to go to a new school. She said having eighth-graders mentor the new students would enable them to connect with the school.

“I’ve long since felt that the kids that we lose to dropping out and apathy is because they don’t feel (they’re) a part of the school,” she said.

Yucca officials sent about 50 letters inviting students for the mentoring program, Dropps said. The students were chosen for their academic standings and behavior, Maes said.

Dropps said 30 students were selected as mentors.

The students went through a one-day training course that dealt with issues relating to coming to a new school to prepare for their roles, Maes said.

“We did a heavy emphasis in communication, listening skills, tactics to deal with some of the problems that kids come face to face with in middle school, for instance peer pressure to do certain things,” she said.

Zackary said mentors can counsel seventh-graders on problems with classes and bullying. But he said being a mentor to other students has its perks.

“You can get out of class, but you’re helping someone out,” he said.

Edith said being a student-mentor is a good leadership experience, but she also understands the responsibility she has guiding younger students.

“We have to choose our words carefully,” she said.