How do you orient new students to the school community when they are forced to be remote?
“M&M” is a mentorship program that pairs upperclassmen with 9th grade students and students new to the school as a way of introducing them to our school community and culture. Though Sky Islands has had mentorship programs in the past, this is the first year that it became a student-led and run initiative. The mentors even planned a ‘freshmen mixer’ where the mentors and mentees all got together outside in the school courtyard for an afternoon of socially-distanced fun and games together.
Below are the reflections of students, mentor and mentees alike, on the program thus far.
Why was the M&M program started?
Byrdee (11th grade; mentor) I started the M&M program because I felt that our school’s normal social community was being severed across a screen. My sister is a freshman and she told me she was having trouble talking to the other people in her grade. Telling her to reach out and just talk to them was difficult as she’s shy and didn’t even know the names of most of her classmates. Normally at our school, the new students shadow someone in the school, even if they’re already enrolled, just so they can make friends and hangout with someone during the school day. Given the global pandemic and necessity of remote learning, things cannot be the way they used to be, so we have to adapt. My idea for this adaption was to make a club where the upperclassmen and freshmen can hang out virtually, play games, make friends, and feel more included and accepted into our school. When we were in our first meeting with all of the upperclassmen, we were calling ourselves mentors, and the freshmen mentees. As a result, we decided to call our club: Mentor and Mentee (M&M).
How did it grow to what it is right now?
Byrdee (11th grade; mentor) Surprisingly fast! A lot of other students were excited to participate in this program and it really took off. At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough people join, or it would just fall apart as a program. All the freshmen were required to join, but we were short on mentors. We worked it out by having some mentors have more mentees. I also have to credit a lot of the organization and sorting out of things to our advisor, Allie, who has been super helpful and supportive of us!
What sorts of things have you done with your mentees?
Bella (11th grade; mentor): Well, at first, I did not really know what to do with my two mentees. I spent the first two weeks talking with them via text and on the phone to get to know them to see what they like. When I found out they both like art, I chose to do a drawing zoom call with them for Halloween. For Halloween as well as a “good job” for first quarter, I made them a little Halloween basket and wrote them a note. When I also found out that one of them likes to bake, I made a group chat with her and my best friend to talk. We all started planning a zoom call to bake something together. In the future I’d like to plan a music-swap where all three of us give each a song to listen to and then discuss it.
Byrdee (11th grade; mentor) My mentee and I often talk/rant about school or homework while drawing. Recently we started just drawing (started with some inktober) and listening to music. We also play games such as would you rather, two truths one lie, and many more, as icebreakers to open up for a broader discussion. I’ve also paired with other mentors and their mentees to play some fun games with our mentees, and I hope to pair with some others to play games online or watch an anime!
Why did you join the mentorship program?
Bella (11th grade; mentor): I wanted to join the mentorship program because I wanted to help students get a good feeling about this school. Because we are remote, they don’t get to have the same opportunities I got when I came to this school last year. They didn’t get to participate in the get-to-know-you orientation we typically have at the beginning of the year, nor do they get to see all the students walking around during breaks. I didn’t have a mentor when I got here, but I had a close friend help me make new friends and be comfortable at the school and I wanted to pay it forward to other students.
What are you getting out of the mentorship program? What do you think your mentees gets out of it?
Bella (11th grade; mentor): I am getting a couple things out of the mentorship program. One big thing is that I am getting work on my talking skills. Typically, I’m shy talking to people I don’t know, so this program is helping me to feel more comfortable doing that. The second thing is that I am learning how to plan and organize my schedule as well as plan fun activities for students. I am usually really bad at planning things for kids and keeping to my schedule. The mentorship program is helping improve at both. I think my mentees are getting a couple things out of the program as well. One big thing is they get to experience the Sky Islands community, even though we are remote. It’s not perfect, but it’s the closest they can get to the 9th grade experience right now. The second thing I think they are getting out of it is a friend because right from the start, I told them I would be a friend to them as well as a mentor.
Byrdee (11th grade; mentor): From the mentorship program I get to hangout and make friends with the freshmen like I normally would if school was in person. I think it’s super fun to be able to make friends with them and it’s good practice for leadership roles and skills. Definitely in this group you have to have organization, leadership, respect, learning to “handle” young teens, and being able to adapt a school community feeling across the screen. I think my mentee has a lot of fun, they have made friends with the other freshmen and upperclassmen. From this program they’re able to break out of the normal school cliques and hang out with other people, it’s an important life skill to learn how to interact, mingle, and make friends with people! They also get a more social experience from school, and human interaction in this quarantine.
What do you think of the M&M program? How has it helped your transition to Sky Islands?
Fiona (9th grade; mentee): I really like the M&M program so far. It’s helped me get to know people in other classes which is hard to do in online school. I hope I can learn more about the school through this program. Doing school over zoom takes away some of the energy, so I look forward to experiencing what the school is really like through this program.
Ileana (9th grade; mentee): The M&M group has been pretty cool so far. I got to know more people, and the people seem cool and fun to hang out with. I want to do more activities with the M&M group so we can get to know the other people in the group. It can be awkward sometimes because it’s through a screen but it’s probably more awkward in person. I like the program so far.