New peer mentor program at Centennial ES

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New peer mentor program at Centennial ES
Peer mentors at Centennial Elementary SchoolKindergartner Angelo Monilla slides his small fingers into a chunky pair of plastic-handled scissors. Ever-so-carefully, he begins to cut along a bold black line drawn on an oversized piece of red construction paper. With each cut, the boy’s eyes remain fixed on the black line. He twists and turns the paper to cut around corners until eventually the excess paper falls to his desk, leaving him successfully holding a bright red paper flower pot.

When Angelo finally breaks his concentration to look up, he sees other students at his table beginning to glue their pots onto a large piece of black construction paper. He searches for a glue stick under what has quickly become a tabletop full of red paper scraps.

As he continues to search, fifth grader Aahana Lohan appears at his side with glue stick and a reassuring smile. She watches as the boy swirls a circle of purple-colored glue onto the black paper and then presses his red flower pot neatly onto one edge to form the beginning of a paper potted poinsettia plant.

Seeing his success, Aahana moves on to help other students. She is among a growing number of fourth and fifth graders who volunteer to help younger peers as part of a new peer mentor program this year at Centennial Elementary School.

Peer mentors at Centennial ESPrincipal Shannon Ritter launched the program shortly after school opened in fall. She asked for interested volunteers during morning announcements over the school intercom. Not long thereafter, 35 students showed up at the door eager to sign up, far exceeding her expectations. The number of mentors has nearly doubled since then as word of the program has spread.

The fourth and fifth graders substitute one of their 35-minute recesses each week to help students in kindergarten and first-grade classes, as well as in the school’s new Developmental Learning Center (DLC) classes.

“I just love how excited the kids are about this, both the mentors and the younger students,” Ritter says. “The mentor is another person in a younger student’s life that cares about them and wants them to be successful.”

With the introduction of DLC classes at Centennial this year, Ritter says having peer mentors in the program supports the school’s efforts around inclusiveness. “Our teachers and students have really embraced this.”

Fifth grader Cyrus Brodak, who volunteers in one of the school’s new DLC classes every Monday, says, “I think it is a good idea to be peer mentor because I can be a role model for students. I can show students how to play a game, and that it is okay to lose. I have made some new friends by working in this classroom.”

DLC Teacher Kaitlin Smith says she likes seeing how excited her students get when the mentors walk through the door. “That is often their favorite time of the day, and it’s great to see the effects of having positive role models in their lives. When the fifth-grade buddies say ‘hi’ to us in the hallways or at recess, it absolutely makes their day. Thank you for spending time with us fifth graders. You all are rockstars!”

Students who express an interest in being a peer mentor receive an initial training by Ritter on how to be a classroom volunteer. Peer mentors read with students, do math, work on art projects, play games, pass out papers and help with whatever else the teacher needs at the time.

Their job, Ritter tells them, is to model respectful, responsible, safe and kind behavior. Each mentor receives a name badge, has the opportunity to purchase a Centennial Elementary Peer Mentor T-shirt or sweatshirt, and meets occasionally with the principal as a group to share successes and ask questions. Each of their parents/guardians receive a letter notifying them that their student has signed up for the program.

Fourth graders Max Lytle and Kellen Juergens, who are assigned as mentors in Lynda Leach’s first-grade class, recently met one-on-one with their younger peers to listen to them read aloud. Max calls it “a treat” to work with the first graders, while Kellen says, “It feels good helping others learn to read.”

Kellen’s mother, Jessica Juergens, says her son “gladly trades recess once a week for time to read with his first-grade peer mentor buddies. As a parent, I love this program. It’s a wonderful leadership opportunity for the mentors and builds characteristics like patience, empathy and compassion.”

Fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Knight says she has noticed the new leadership opportunity helps her students in several ways. “I see an increase in self confidence, taking initiative and ownership of learning throughout the entire school day,” she says. “My peer mentors take this leadership role with great responsibility, knowing students and teachers are counting on them.”

Kindergarten teacher Laura Hendrix adds that having peer mentors in her kindergarten class is like inviting professional baseball players to a Little League game.

“The respect, rapport and amazing help the older children provide has been a gift to both children and teachers,” she says. “Though we feel we benefit from the relationships the most in kindergarten, you can tell by the looks on the faces of the older children that they are benefiting in confidence and from the gift of giving of themselves too. It’s a win-win if there was one!”