Story by Jasmine Dillon, Walker Valley Senior
For the first time ever at Walker Valley High-School, a “big brother, big sister program” is in the process of coming to life. For the last couple of months, Ms. Pickens’ Fall leadership class has been working on a behemothic project, something they call the “Mustang Mentors.”
The class itself consisted of sixteen students, mostly seniors, along with three outstanding juniors. Ms. Pickens, a teacher of seven years, asked the class if they were given the opportunity to change anything at Walker Valley, (excluding the return of hour lunch), what would it be? Tout de suite, the conversation turned to the freshmen academy and almost every student had wanted to change something about the freshmen experience at Walker Valley as a whole.
The class designed the program to work almost like a system. Two students, one male and one female, with completely differing high-school histories were paired together to be the “mentors” for one classroom. For example, ideally, a student from the STEM academy would be paired with a student from MBA or Humanities academy in order to reach and connect with all the students in any given map class scenario.
Pickens explained what the behind the scenes of this project looked like; every Leadership Class is told to pick their own final project, and every project must be able to show that the students had learned how to effectively lead others. They can pick whatever they want. So in the past, different classes have done things like put on leadership conferences or organized Veteran’s day event. Each different group picks a completely different project, and this year’s group talked about how they wish that as freshmen, they’d known more about Walker Valley. Kind like they had a big brother or big sister.
So this year’s group decided to institute a program where they’re going to put upperclassmen mentors in all the freshmen map classes, and so they went through the multiple steps it required to plan something of that scale.
Once the idea of the program was designed, it was time to present to the administration staff and teachers. Four brave souls first presented to Mr. Akiona, and another group of four presented to the freshmen teachers, and a last group of four presented to the entire school staff. In succession, came recruitment and so for a few weeks, the class thought of every senior and junior that stood out when compared to the rest of the school. There were lists of names on the board of possible mentors for at least two weeks. After, recruitment, came lesson plans, and then, an entire day was devoted to training those mentors who were not part of the Leadership Class.
Mrs. Pickens noted on the subject the week before the very first MAP encounter between the freshmen and their respective mentors, “We’re to the point that now, where the next time we have freshman map, you’re going to have those mentors actually attend the freshman map classes and they’re going to help the teachers teach them. And then the idea is that they’re there to kind of give a student perspective on stuff.”
Ms. Pickens continued on to explain what the freshmen map classes are like now, before introducing the Mustang Mentors program, “Well, freshmen tend to be really timid, especially around teachers that they don’t know. So with map teachers, they often times maybe only know you from MAP, so even if you’re really nice and have a pretty good relationship with a map teacher, there’s still a chance they don’t feel comfortable about asking questions. So you know, they’re just quiet and timid…There’s just not much interaction.”
The program itself is being held to high standards from administration and Ms. Pickens herself. She hopes to see a few things take place with the institution of this program. Firstly, information is expected to be disseminated to freshmen more efficiently, even notably, Pickens has said that “that’s the number one priority. I want the freshmen to know more about the school.” Another priority is the encouragement of inter-grade relationships. The mentors are there to become friends with the freshmen, and eliminate the idea of the “big and bad and intimidating seniors” that is often times propagandized to the freshmen. Not only is the program meant to aid the freshmen students during their freshmen year, it also provides the senior and junior mentors an opportunity to grow and develop leadership skills by leading thirty-minute class discussions and to have a professional relationship with their assigned map teachers.
What makes the mustang mentors stand out among other similar “big brother, big sister” programs is fact the mentors are not just going to take on that traditional idea of the “big brother, big sister” programs and just sit with the freshmen for a brief period of time, but the mentors have actually planned detailed lessons that they personally wish they had when they were in the same position as the freshmen, just a little over three years ago. Also, those mentors aren’t just going in and creating a relationship with one freshman. They’re going in and trying to create like a group, team atmosphere for that entire class.
Ms. Pickens herself had actually taken place in a similar program at Lee University, where she attended for her undergraduate studies. She explained the program as a “peer leadership” where upperclassmen are placed in a freshman “orientation type” of class and helped teach and lead the course. The difference between the two, she noted, was where the Mustang Mentors actually planned detailed lesson plans, the Peer Leaders at Lee were handed the pre-organized lesson plans. She also mentioned Mrs. Delbonis, who is over map classes here at Walker Valley, and her experience as a Peer Leader as well. The two have previously discussed key elements of the Peer Leadership program at Lee and what they should ‘borrow’ for guidelines for the Mustang Mentor program.
The “Mustang Mentors” program underwent many different stages of editing and revision that took a majority of a school semester in order to ensure the program is able to reach its full potential. The Fall Leadership Class of 2015 took every precaution mandatory to make sure this program is successful and lasting. The idea is that this becomes a tradition here at Walker Valley for years to come.
The current mentors now hope to see that in three years, the freshmen that first took place in the program will want to become mentors when they become seniors themselves and change the errors that they saw as participant’s from a different perspective and better the “Mustang Mentors” program for the best. Mrs. Pickens, the teacher who over saw the entire process of the program’s birth, says she doesn’t see the “Mustang Mentors” as a legacy of just the graduating class of 2016, but rather a legacy of the 2015 Fall Leadership Class because every student, junior and senior alike, that took place in this program put in the equal amount of work and effort.