2018-10-11 / Life in Leelanau

Mentors contribute to student success

By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff

GETTING READY for the new mentor program at Glen Lake Schools, mentor program coordinator and high school teacher Emily Alt receives a check from members of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International. Pictured, from left, are Emily Alt, Nancy Muhlig and Alicia Sandord. GETTING READY for the new mentor program at Glen Lake Schools, mentor program coordinator and high school teacher Emily Alt receives a check from members of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International. Pictured, from left, are Emily Alt, Nancy Muhlig and Alicia Sandord. Maybe the Beatles had it right: “I get by with a little help from my friends.” At least that’s what area schools have found is essential for students - only these friends may be considered anything but typical, based on an age gap that may span decades.

Each of the Leelanau County public schools - Glen Lake Schools, Leland Public Schools, Northport Public School and Suttons Bay Schools - offers at least one mentor program to benefit its students.

A mentor’s view

“It truly was one of the best experiences I have ever had,” former mentor Judy Egeler said. “I was certainly old enough to be his grandmother, and maybe even his great-grandmother, but we got along well.”

Egeler participated in the Bridge program at Leland Public School for many years and she liked every bit of it. “I just thought (my mentee) was fun to be with,” she said. “I think just spending time with him was really special for me. We really bonded.”

During their weekly meetings, Egeler said the two would focus on schoolwork or play games. Farkle was a favorite. “He loved that. He thought that was so much fun,” she said. “He loved the chance to play a game with somebody - I don’t think that happened at home. It was just spending time with him. Kind of like Big Brothers, except it was with a young boy and a woman.”

She was this student’s mentor for five or six years. Plenty of time to form a solid bond. She said during this time, he shared many things with her.

“What he really needed was a companion,” Egeler said. “I was there to listen to him, and he confided lots of things - things that worried him, things that were fun. We just had good conversation. I would spend time with him and make him feel like he was someone worth listening to, more than having to tutor him.”

Her time as his mentor ended because he felt he didn’t need a mentor any longer, but according to Egeler, the two are still friends.

New this year

At the 7 to 12 grade level, mentor programming is a new concept at Glen Lake Schools, but it’s necessary, said secondary mentoring program coordinator and teacher Emily Alt.

“We are a small school, a K-12 building. There should be no way there aren’t five or six adults ‘there’ for each of these kids. They should feel like they belong in this space” Alt said. “After the Parkland shooting, I wondered ‘what if’ - what if that student had had a mentor?”

The goal of the program, according to Alt, is to make sure students stay in school, feel they have a variety of post-secondary options and remain in the school building and in the community through graduation.

She added that not having a program is missing an opportunity. “We need to leverage the amazing members in the community,” she said.

Mentors don’t need any special training or specific skills. They are required to visit with a student once a week for 15 minutes.

“You don’t need experience - you just need to be a consistent, kind person who wants to give back to a child in the community. Someone who’s cheering them on,” Alt said. “Some of the best mentors are people who haven’t stepped in a school building since they were in school.”

The program is scheduled to begin next semester. Alt said the program will include 8 to 10 students in its first year. The students will be selected based on teacher referrals.

Others believe in Alt and her vision for the Glen Lake students and have supported her efforts. Delta Kappa Gamma Society International last week supported the new program with a $300 grant, which will be used for community events for mentors and supplies to support students.

Glen Lake Schools has a nationwide mentoring program in place for younger students in grades K through 5. The “Kids Hope” program matches an adult mentor with a student in the Young Fives program who will continue as that student’s mentor through her or his 8th grade year.

Anyone interested in becoming a mentor in the Glen Lake secondary mentoring program should email Emily Alt at alte@mylakers.org.

Peer support

Adults aren’t the only mentors to support students. Older students can be effective mentors for younger students.

Leland Public Schools, Glen Lake School and Northport Public School follow a youth mentor model for students in the elementary grades.

The “Northport Mentoring Program,” aimed at developing supportive relationships across age groups, is returning this year as an offering for students at the tip of the peninsula.

“The idea of peer to peer mentoring is back on the scene and part of the educational community,” said teacher Elizabeth Lint. “It’s a good way to develop skills in both older kids and younger kids… It’s good on both ends, and for community building.”

Lint is helping to reboot the program. Fellow teacher Donna Wilson will supervise the mentor program once it is launched.

The main purpose, since we are a K-12 building, is to have our high school students spend some time with our elementary students, Lint explained. The older students will meet with the younger students in kindergarten through grade 5 once a week for about 20 or 30 minutes. Little buddies will be selected from teachers who know them best and who know if they need support or having a difficult time.

“They may read a book together, or play games,” she said. “They will have a pre-designed activity they will do every week.”

To prepare for this endeavor, Lint worked with some of the high school students last spring to prepare them for becoming a mentor. “I did a training on how to build self-esteem in young kids, what to do if they tell you something scary about their home life and how to report to a responsible adult and those types of issues,” she said.

Students in the southern end of the county have similar opportunities, according to elementary school counselor Amy Johnson-Velis.

“We are so lucky” Johnson-Velis said. “We have what’s called our ‘PALS’ program, which pairs volunteer high school students with Little Lakers in grades Young Fives through third or fourth grades. This occurs once a week for about 30 minutes. We play games, read, do art activities, play outside, decorate cookies, et cetera. High school students volunteer their time, often taking time away from their lunch to do this.”

Leland offers programs aimed at supporting student academics and challenging situations through high school student mentors.

Suttons Bay is also reintroducing a peer mentoring program again this year.

A personal perspective

The young man, raised by two parents, was very poor. He didn’t dress nicely. Other students poked fun at him.

He was smart, but he struggled in his classes because he rushed through his assignments.

This was the information Leland resident Judith Egeler received when she signed up to become a mentor with the Bridge program at Leland Public School.

After working with this student for the months leading up to Christmas, he returned from the holiday break excited to share his news.

“I was meeting with him for the first time in January after the Christmas holidays and asked what he got for Christmas,” Egeler said.

“This young man was so excited. He said he got the best present ever - he said he got a Nintendo game system,” she said. “I knew at that point the family had no money. My first thought was, how in the world did they manage to get a Nintendo for (him), if they can’t even afford fuel to heat the house?”

But the boy said he was lucky because his dad was lucky, Egeler explained. At first, she didn’t understand what he meant, but he explained the story to her.

“What had happened is his dad found a Nintendo system someone was getting rid of. And his dad asked the owner of the house if he could have it,” she recounted.

Egeler said she admired the fact that the boy’s father made the effort to ask if he could have the system. “It showed the caliber of the father because he didn’t just take it, he stopped and asked the person who’s home it was,” she said. “Most people would have just taken it.”

The game system was discarded because it was broken, but the father was able to fix it. And on Christmas morning, Egeler’s mentee opened a Nintendo.

She said this story ranked as one of her favorites. It’s easy to see why.

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