Mentor Program Aims To Ease High School Transition

Among those working with the Freshman Focus program are, from left, guidance counselor Rose Zollinger, teacher Jennifer Sills, junior mentor Qwaniesha Milbourne and senior mentor Marleigh Eure. Photo by Travis Brown Among those working with the Freshman Focus program are, from left, guidance counselor Rose Zollinger, teacher Jennifer Sills, junior mentor Qwaniesha Milbourne and senior mentor Marleigh Eure. Photo by Travis Brown

SNOW HILL — Entering its third year, the Freshman Focus mentorship program at Snow Hill High School (SHHS) partners upperclassman volunteers with rising ninth graders and offers students who might be nervous about entering high school advice and support from those in their own peer group.
This year is unique in that it is the first time that the original 2011-2012 freshman class of mentees has been able to return as upperclassman mentors, something many students leapt at the chance to do.
The program was co-founded by SHHS guidance counselor Rose Zollinger and biology and environmental sciences teacher Jennifer Sills.
“We like to pair up for a lot of programs,” explained Sills. “We start them together.”
Zollinger first pitched the idea to Sills after learning about a similar program at an education conference. Sills was immediately interested and the pair received the full support of SHHS Principal Tom Davis. Freshman Focus pairs two or three incoming freshmen with a junior or senior mentor so that the entire new ninth grade class is covered. The assignment is not random but is done carefully by looking at each mentee’s needs and mentor’s background.
“We go through each incoming ninth grader individually: what kinds of things do they like, what kinds of activities are they involved in, what kind of student they are,” said Zollinger. “Then we look at our mentor list and that’s how we pair up our students.”
Once grouped, mentors and mentees go through a summer introduction followed by a school orientation in the fall. During the school year, mentors meet with each of their mentees at least twice a month, though they are always available for questions and concerns. The goals of the program are to help freshman ease into their new school while keeping their grades up, keeping attendance high and reducing behavior problems.
Besides the obvious benefits to the mentees, mentors take away a lot from the program, as well.
“It benefits them because, maybe for the first time, they’re in a leadership position and somebody is looking up to them and they have this leadership opportunity,” said Sills, “to prove themselves in a different way. So we’ve had a lot of mentors step up to the plate and we’ve seen qualities from them that we maybe hadn’t seen in previous years.”
And it’s not just the straight-A, honors students who are becoming mentors. There are minimum grade requirements and expectations of behavior, but besides that mentors are drawn from very different backgrounds with experience in diverse clubs, sports teams, organizations and personalities.
Through Freshman Focus, students who might otherwise not have interacted are able to become friends. Senior mentor Marleigh Eure has been involved with the program for the last two years and has found it rewarding.
“I’ve made new friends that I wouldn’t have made,” she said. “Some of my mentees are people I wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise.”
Junior Mentor Qwaniesha Milbourne was one of the original freshman mentees and said that she’s glad to be able to take part in the program from the other end. It was a huge help her first year at SHHS, which Milbourne admitted being nervous about.
“I thought it was good to have an upperclassman to give you some of their advice. Just a shoulder to lean on and it was good to have somebody else in my age group,” she said.
Milbourne now hopes to be that shoulder for her own group, which she will be meeting with regularly throughout the rest of the year.

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