New lessons and growth through mentoring program at Monument Valley

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Mentoring and leadership opportunities for both students and parents are continuing to expand at Monument Valley Middle School, but the process is not without its growing pains.

Of the some 380 students in the grades 5-8 school, about a third of students volunteer as peer mentors, and a core group of about a dozen parents work to help support the student mentor matches. That means the quantity is there in terms of making sure that more students have the opportunity to lead and/or find support at school, but it also means these groups have to work together to make sure everyone has a quality experience.

Prior to a June 20 celebration of this year's students participating in the program, the parents' group met earlier this month to review surveys and feedback about this year's program.

The data found that time, scheduling and absenteeism all played roles in how successful the mentoring was.

"We found mentors wanted more time with their mentees," said school adjustment counselor Dom Sacco, who created the program almost eight years ago.

The program requires the student volunteers to make time in their school day to meet with their mentees during either a designated gym or library period, but like adults, students' schedules can also become jam-packed with commitments. So some of the mentoring pairs just stopped showing up to meet.

The strongest results, however, showed that some mentees improved their attendance and engagement with classes and school activities as a direct result of having an older student mentoring them in the school.

"The problem is that the program has been so successful, we've almost grown too big to manage," Principal Ben Doren said.

Which is why Sacco and Doren this summer will be looking for more parents and adults in the community who are interested in helping to manage the program for the upcoming school year. Ideally, they'll be recruiting 6 to 8 adult volunteers to help this fall.

"It's a great way to support your child or another child in the community," said Karen Schneyer, a parent-mentor.

Each school year starts with a retreat and training workshop for the student mentors, who learn how to be good role models, and be a resource and support system for other students. Then, ideally, the mentors and mentees get to know each other as they meet on a weekly basis, fostering positive relationships and connections with one another.

Rising ninth-graders Karina Mahida and Emily Goudey said they both had positive experiences with the mentoring program, but confirmed that they did struggle with finding adequate time to meet with their mentees.

Asked whether it's still a helpful program, both students affirmed its purpose.

"I think it's a good program because it shows us how to be leaders, and makes us a lot more confident in helping others," said Mahida.

Goudey said it was helpful to her to get to know other students in the school.

"Middle school can be really tough, so I joined because I wanted to help other kids get through," Goudey said.

During the June 20 celebration of the program, Doren and other staff also took the time to recognize student leadership in other programs, including Student Council, Project 351, and participants in an afterschool program coordinated with the Railroad Street Youth Project.

Sabrina Allard, the mentoring coordinator for RSYP, also works with the Monument Valley Peer Mentoring program and parent mentoring groups.

In her remarks, she honored the students' willingness to help themselves and others simultaneously.

"There's a bravery in showing up and being seen," Allard said. "You've all taught us something new, and also reminded us to have fun."


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