Armed with pens and papers, students shuffled to the front of Castleton University’s Jeffords Auditorium to sign in and find their seats. The room soon fell quiet as the training for the Castleton Elementary School mentoring program began.
Since 2004, CU students have gone to spend one hour per week, on a day of their choosing, with students at the local elementary school. They spend lunch and recess with their mentee – a fourth or fifth grader – and according to Kathleen Kilbourne, the principal of the school, the program has been beneficial for the elementary school students.
“It’s an opportunity to have another role model and see life through the eyes of someone who knows how to set goals,” Kilbourne said. “I think it provides an opportunity for them to talk to someone closer to their own age.”
The program matches up a university student with a mentee based on like interests. For the time that the student spends with their mentee, the interaction is one-on-one. According to Kilbourne, for the elementary students, this is important.
“I think in the pace of our society and life, when everything is going by so quickly, sometimes it’s hard to get someone’s undivided one-on-one attention, and this program gives them that gift,” she said.
The program is headed by a mentorship leader team, comprised of students Nick Aleksonis, Sammy MacEachron and Morgan Demers.
“It’s a really great experience, especially if you’re an athlete or an educator, because you get to work with kids,” said MachEachron, an education major.
Aleksonis, a business management and marketing major, agreed.
“It’s really fun showing up there,” he said. “All the kids know whose mentor you are … so, they really love it. It’s just an hour a week, but it really is a lot more than that to them, because they really love seeing you and it makes an impact on their lives.”
Demers, a fellow education major, said the program is beneficial for the college students as well.
“I’d say it’s a really rewarding program,” the fellow education major said. “You definitely see the smiles on children’s faces. It’s just a great experience.”
The number of playground activities students partake in with their mentees is endless. Some play “knockout,” a game utilizing a basketball that hones free-throw and rebounding skills. Some climb on the jungle gyms with their mentees. Others join their mentees on the teeter totter.
According to Kilbourne, the program has had a positive influence on the elementary school students.
“They love it. It’s fantastic,” she said. “If their mentors don’t show up, they’re really disappointed. They really look forward to it. Our attendance rates are better, the nurse referrals go down, behavior referrals go down. It’s a really special time for them… It’s the highlight of their week.”
According to Castleton University senior staff assistant Katharine Spaulding, who helps run the program, it has been a success on the side of the university as well.
“We actually had a student email me saying that she was a mentee, and was mentored, and now she wants to give back and be a mentor,” Spaulding said. “You don’t hear that often, but when you do it touches your heart because you’re like, they were a mentee at one time, and now they’re going to give back and be a mentor.”
According to Spaulding, the only changes in the program over 13 years have been certain policies.
“We try to make sure we include everything in the training so the students don’t go in blindsided,” Spaulding said, also noting that the university ensures that the mentors are aware of what is expected of them.
According to Spaulding, part of that process is to send out a survey at the end of the year to the mentees to find out what worked.
“I love the mentoring program because the college students that sign up for the program are very nice kids and my mentor is an awesome mentor,” one of the mentees wrote in the survey.
“I like the mentoring program because my mentor plays with me and listens to me all the time. I wish they could come more often,” another mentee wrote.
Student mentors will also receive an email at the end of the year, so that they may offer their own input as well.
One of the students new to the program, Harry He, a social work major from China, feels that this program can help his major.
“I think this program is very interesting,” he said, “In China, it’s different, the school life. I think this will be a good memory for me.”
According to Kilbourne, this program has been an important asset to the students at Castleton Elementary School.
“It’s critical,” she said. “We do a good job at schools with academics, and teaching math and reading, but now we also need to be teaching social emotional wellness, and the ability to work with all different kinds of people, and the ability to communicate effectively. This program really allows kids to continue to develop their social emotional wellness right alongside their academic progress.”