October 23, 2019
A freshman walks through the doors on the first day of school. Just as his left foot steps inside the building, “We Are The Champions” begins to play over the loudspeakers, and green confetti explodes from the ceiling panels. With every beat of the music a new person gives him a high five, and as he makes his way through the A hallway, all the math teachers break into dance. The freshman quickly realizes that every single thing about the next four years of his life will be fantastic.
Starting high school is a nerve-wracking idea for most freshmen, especially for the first few weeks. There are so many things to get used to: the hallways, the cafeteria, the workload, and the new people. To help freshmen navigate their first year of high school as smoothly as possible, Atholton has decided to take a new approach. Introducing: The Peer Mentor Program.
“We were looking at ways to increase students’ feeling of connection to the school,” said ninth-grade counselor Ms. Richardson, one of the main counselors who helped to organize and initiate the Peer Mentor Program. She added that she wanted to give freshmen, “an opportunity to have a peer that they can go to right away for questions, to help check in about certain things that are important so that there aren’t any students missing information. It’s just an extra layer of support for your first year of high school that we felt like we didn’t have very structured before.”
Rising tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders last year were all offered the opportunity to apply to be a mentor to one of the many incoming freshmen of 2019. The program proved successful, with over eighty upperclassmen selected to act as peer mentors to over sixty ninth graders.
“The Peer Mentor Program is such an amazing way for freshmen to transition into high school life,” said senior Zoe Baskerville, one of the upperclassmen selected to participate as a peer mentor in the program. “It’s so great to establish that relationship with an existing student, and to share those Atholton values.”
Baskerville was just one of the students interested in becoming a mentor. Ms. Richardson continued explaining how there has been “a huge interest” at Atholton as far as the peer mentors are concerned. “A lot of students are interested in the leadership experience. I heard a lot from students saying, ‘I wish this kind of program existed for me when I was a ninth-grader,’” she continued. “I think the ninth grade students on their end, from what I’ve seen so far, is that they’ve enjoyed having somebody to check in with and ask questions to. It’s just helping them feel more comfortable.”
Ninth grade team leader Mr. Morfoot added on by saying that the Peer Mentor Program not only supports the ninth graders socially, but academically as well. “The mentors are assigned to help freshmen get involved in different activities such as sports and clubs here at Atholton. They also work with the freshmen to build relationships with other students and staff by acting as a ‘middleman’. As far as academics go, the mentors work with the freshmen to develop good study habits, manage their time wisely, and to utilize the resources that we have available.”
As beneficial as the program is for ninth graders, the Peer Mentor Program is also advantageous for the upperclassmen too. Ms. Richardson explained how the act of mentoring helps to “develop leadership skills.” The mentees, on the other hand, are
more likely to become leaders themselves. “They’re more likely to attend school more regularly, feel more connected to the school, and understand where to go for help,” said Ms. Richardson. “The mentors then have to develop skills in those areas to be able to share with their mentees how to access those things.”
Senior Nolan Chong, a selected mentor, spoke of his own experience so far as a mentor. “I decided to become a peer mentor because I wanted to be able to make a difference in a freshman’s life. I hope that having that one-on-one time with a freshman will really make an impact on his life through high school and in college.”
Mr. Morfoot continued to explain how the program can be a great experience and learning opportunity for both freshmen and upperclassmen. “The mentors have the opportunity to improve their reasoning skills, their ability to relate to peers and improve
their communication skills. They develop a greater connection to the school and an increased ‘cultural capital,’ which helps mentors to understand their own challenges and experiences.” Chong agreed with Ms. Richardson, saying, “It’s a learning process for both the mentee and the mentor. You guys are both new at this, so just chill. Just talk. Have conversations. It’s nothing too serious.”
Due to the Peer Mentor Program’s success so far, the ninth grade team at Atholton is planning to continue with the program next year. The administration has plans to expand the program beyond to the entire ninth grade, among other revisions to make
the second year of the Peer Mentor Program even better. “We are hoping that this program helps students to feel less of a ‘shock’ as they enter high school,” said Mr. Morfoot. “We want the freshmen to feel like part of the community at Atholton. In order to be a Raider, one must feel confident and at ease throughout the transition from middle school to high school.”
“You know, freshmen year can be scary,” Baskerville said. “But if you have a senior buddy or junior buddy, it makes life a little bit less scary.”