By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
The first time Burlington Notre Dame second-grader Guinivere White met her peer mentor, sixth-grader Megan Pilkingon, she was a little nervous.
After Megan shared a Bible lesson and asked Guinivere about her hobbies, a bond formed. “When I saw her again, I felt excited,” the second-grader said.
Megan said, “It’s cool because it’s one more person to get to know.
Many schools in the Diocese of Davenport offer peer mentoring-type programs geared at giving older students an opportunity to assist younger students and form relationships.
Some programs have an academic focus, like Regina Catholic Education Center’s Regal Learning Program. Junior and senior high students help elementary students by serving as tutors, study buddies, end of the day organization helpers and more.
Regina Elementary Principal Celeste Vincent believes this type of program is vital for the school. “Each student is at a different level of acceleration for his or her learning. Students who work at a different pace are given the opportunity to excel by added supports. When we design instruction to meet varying educational needs, we also need to be designing supports along with the instruction plan.”
Some programs are geared primarily toward establishing inter-student support systems. This fall, Holy Trinity Junior/Senior High School in Fort Madison initiated a peer mentoring program that focuses on helping younger students with academic and social adjustment. Junior high students, or high school students in need of a boost, can sign up to meet at least twice a week during lunch study halls with a high-schooler who has volunteered to be a peer mentor. “We pair them up with whoever might be a good fit,” said counselor Jill Stull.
She said peer mentors help with anything from school work to organization to social acclimation. The program has quickly become popular and earned a good reputation with both older and younger students. “Most of the students that (ask for a peer mentor) think it’s pretty cool to hang out with a high-schooler a couple days a week!”
Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton pairs up seniors with first-graders for its Big Buddy program. First-grade teacher Heather Dehner said the program was started to instill a sense of community among the students. “Each year, a senior is paired up with one or two first-graders. Usually twice a month on a Friday we meet for about 40 minutes and do such activities as making cards for others in the community, playing games or simply listening to each other read. The little buddies look forward to this time as do big buddies.”
Senior Shayenne Stiegler said she enjoys being part of the big buddy program. “We get to connect with the younger kids and gain relationships we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Dehner said the little buddies and big buddies often keep in touch after the school year has ended. Travis Witt, a 2012 graduate, still stops by Prince of Peace from time to time to spend time with Marcus Blount, now a fifth-grader. Marcus said, “I feel glad when I see him, we sit together and talk sometimes at games. It’s cool when Travis comes to lunch at school to visit me. I hope it continues.”
Nita Carlson, a middle/high school religion teacher at Burlington Notre Dame, initiated the school’s second-grade/sixth-grade peer mentoring program several years ago as a way for older students to help younger students on a faith level. The older student serves as a “prayer partner” throughout the year, helping with faith lessons, rosary prayer, Lenten observances and more.
Carlson said most of the second-graders will participate in the sacraments of reconciliation and Communion for the first time during the school year, making it a pivotal time. “I thought it would be a good idea for sixth-graders to pray with them and get to know them.”
She said many of her older students still remember their prayer partners. For Carlson, the prayer partner program summarizes what Notre Dame is all about. “It’s about spiritual connections and spreading the love of Jesus. It’s about using our gifts to help someone else.”