Offering a helping hand

At Corkran Middle School, mentor program teaches leadership, gives guidance

August 31, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Shane Severe, an incoming sixth-grader at Corkran Middle School, had the usual misgivings of a new student when classes started Monday. How would he find the right classroom and read his schedule? Would he be able to make new friends? Whom could he ask for help?

"I was really nervous because I thought I wouldn't understand anything," Shane said. But after orientation with his eighth-grade mentors, he felt relief.

"I know they're going to help me out when I need help," Shane said.

The Anne Arundel County School System starts sixth-graders a day before their older middle school classmates so they can get used to their new environs, but Corkran is one of the few that offers its students a mentoring program similar to those offered in high schools.

Now in its second year, teachers and students are seeing positive results, said Deborah Montgomery, principal of Corkran Middle School.

"We have great faith in our eighth-graders, and we are trying to teach them leadership," she said.

Out of a class of 260 eighth-graders, 62 were selected to be mentors. Four mentors have been assigned to each sixth-grade homeroom. They will visit them throughout the year.

Montgomery got the idea for the mentoring program from those used at Arundel and Glen Burnie high schools. Corkran hired a consultant to develop a mentoring program and run orientation last year. This year, teachers and students did everything.

The mentors spent a day in training earlier this month to learn how to put sixth-graders at ease. They worked alongside teachers during orientation Monday.

The mentors helped sixth-graders read their class schedule and find their lockers. They also went over a list of frequently asked questions developed by their school guidance counselor. The sixth-graders had to form teams and hunt for the answers in a student resource book they got to keep.

"We're trying to build teamwork," Montgomery said.

All of the students also had to put some of their favorite things on their name tags and strike up a conversation with the person next to them. To lighten things up, the mentors also taught the students the school's spirit dance - moves timed to a medley of such pop songs as Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "YMCA" by the Village People.

To apply to be mentors, rising eighth-graders had to have high grades and a good attendance record. They also had to be well behaved during the previous school year.

Eighth-graders Lexlie Kaline and Jacob Hammontree volunteered because they like helping people. Lexlie remembers her first day as a sixth-grader.

"Getting lost, that was really big," she said. "We didn't know anybody."

Jacob said he remembers being scared on his second day of sixth grade, when the seventh- and eighth-graders started school. After the dance lesson, students felt more comfortable with each other.

"I think that loosened them up a lot," Jacob said.

After lunch, all of the students headed to the gym for a group performance of the spirit dance. As the eighth-graders moved across the stage, the sixth-graders below them hesitantly followed along. They turned left when the eighth-graders turned right. Several tries later, the sixth-graders found their rhythm and started ad-libbing their own moves.

This year, school officials believe they have learned the rhythm of their new program. The mentoring portion floundered a bit last year because eighth-graders found it hard to fit in a visit to the sixth-grade homerooms, said Jessica Landis, the school guidance counselor. This year, the mentors will have time set aside during their monthly advisory-room lessons to make visits.

In addition to helping sixth-graders adjust, the mentoring program builds confidence in the eighth-graders, Landis said.

"Some of them really feel like they're in a leadership position," she said.

And the sixth-graders no longer see eighth-graders as intimidating upperclassmen, said Millie Zipay, a sixth-grade teacher.

"The eighth-graders are looked on as helpers, not someone to fear," she said.

With more time set aside for the program this year, the program should be much more successful at building lasting friendships between sixth- and eighth-graders, said Carol Brinkley, the mentor coordinator and a sixth-grade teacher.

"I feel so positive about it this year," she said. "I think it's really going to make a difference."

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