Waimea Middle School Re-Starting Mentoring & Recruiting Volunteers To Support 6th-8th Grade Students
After a 20-month hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School (WMPCCS) is cautiously re-starting its successful student mentoring program and seeking community volunteers.
“We know first-hand from having hosted student mentoring with a large cohort of community volunteers for seven years that this is needed now more than ever due to the Covid-induced emotional roller coaster many middle school adolescents have experienced,” said Pat Rice, WMPCCS School Improvement Specialist.
“I’ll never forget when the late Mayor Billy Kenoi spoke to a group of our mentors and families several years ago and said: ‘Middle school is where you launch students, or lose them.’ It’s more true now than ever because the pandemic has hit kids hard,” she said. “In addition to trusted teachers, our students need a reliable friend who cares for them and they can talk to.”
WMPCCS launched student mentoring in 2013 with the support of Hawai’i Community Foundation. The goal was to help improve attendance, behavior, academic growth and ultimately help keep students in school to graduate.
“In the beginning, we didn’t know what to expect with students or community volunteers but it quickly became clear it was a win-win-win. Both students and volunteers loved spending time together on campus, and teachers and staff saw improvement in attendance, behavior choices and gradually, in grades,” said Rice.
Before Covid hit, WMPCCS had more than 50 community volunteers meeting regularly with students. Students can self-refer to participate, families may request a mentor for their child, and teachers and staff may suggest students whom they feel would benefit. Families must give permission and then students complete a survey so they can be matched with an appropriate mentor.
“Mentoring is not a new strategy but we learned first-hand that it makes a big difference for middle schoolers who are undergoing many physical, social and emotional changes. Students benefit from having adult role models who truly care about them. When students know that there are adults at school who believe in them, they feel more connected to school. The greater the connection, the more likely they are to stay in school and do better academically,” said Rice.
Mentors meet one-on-one with their students either once a week or once every two weeks to help with homework, play board games or go outside to play basketball or go for a walk on campus. They also can visit the school’s Mala’ai garden, do crafts, talk story, and more, said the school’s new Mentoring Coordinator Ilene Grossman.
“Several of our mentors are astronomers and engineers and they introduce their student to hand-on projects building things or learning about coding or other technology tools. We’ve also had several Waimea Community Policing Officers helping with mentoring.
“Mentors have come from every walk of life,” said Grossman.
“Many of our past mentors have dedicated years to the program, often working with the same student for all three years of middle school. Many of these mentors are returning.
While some aspects of the student support program won’t change, including the requirement that mentors be fingerprinted, criminal background screened, and trained, there are now Covid-safety protocols required including masking, distancing and most important, all mentors must be vaccinated.
Among the community partners who have supported mentoring at Waimea Middle is Boys2Men, a nationally recognized cohort of men who are trained to talk-story with small groups of 7th and 8th grade boys to problem solve - or play basketball.
“We thank all of the volunteers who have supported our students as mentors over the years, and also mahalo Hawai’i Community Foundation for continuing to support mentoring because it has such a positive impact on our middle school adolescents,” said Rice.
Evidence that mentoring makes a difference:
● 100% of the students who participated in 2019 said the mentoring program helped them.
● Students said the opportunities to express their feelings, the help they received with their homework, the time to share their problems and come up with positive solutions, and the
feeling of not being alone were positive results of their involvement in mentoring.
● One student reported, "It stopped me from being depressed and feeling lonely."
● Another student shared, "It's helped me learn how to handle difficult situations in life."
● Mentored students are 52% less likely than their peers to skip school.
If interested in becoming a mentor and have questions, please contact Ilene Grossman at firstname.lastname@example.org, 808-887-6090, Ext. 287 or 808-785-2355 (cell).