Planting the seed

Two students at the Castleton Elementary School stand in the doorway, bouncing on their heels impatiently as they look out the window. They are not waiting for a parent, a field trip, or their favorite elective teacher but instead for their Castleton State College student mentor.This experience, as told by sophomore Justin Garritt, is what helped confirm his dedication to the mentoring program that has been nationally renowned for its growth and success.

“When you see kids that you know that you really mean something. It was a great feeling and I’ve been hooked since,” said Garritt.

Garritt is one of two head mentors and all-around student coordinators for the program that started four years ago with humble beginnings.

In 2005, Castleton staff members Jan Rousse, Chrispin White and Tammy Landon were approached by now-alumna Colleen Rupp about establishing a relationship between the college and Castleton Elementary School. The program started with 10 CSC students meeting with once a week with those at the elementary school. This year there are 96 students from the college acting as mentors.

While the group of dedicated Castleton students meet and exceed the standard of being positive social role models in the lives of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders, the program’s biggest goal is to get the students excited about the prospect of higher education.

“We want to plant the seed for college in them now so that they start working hard and seeing that hard work is going to pay off for later on,” said Garritt.

Having been presented with the Vermont State College Governor’s Award for community service last year and being recognized at the CFDS Conference this year in front of the whole country, it’s no wonder that prospective students are being attracted to Castleton because of the

Head mentor and freshman Stephanie Terry is living proof.

“[The program] was one of my main reasons for coming to CSC,” said Terry. “My guidance counselor told me about it, and I really wanted to be apart of it.”

The program has not only expanded in size over the years, but also in its capacity to look for, take on, and meet new challenges and heights. While nature of the program still is for college students to meet with their fifth- or sixth- grade counterpart once a week, Garritt initiated themed celebrations to keep things lively.

Some of these events included a kick-off party to get the college and elementary students acquainted, a holiday party to instill the spirit of giving by making cards for the troops, and a healthy heart Valentine’s Day celebration to address eating disorders and body image.

Perhaps the year’s biggest event, however, is the upcoming end-of-the-year celebration that entails the 6th grade students participating in a simulated college graduation to further create not only an excitement about higher education, but to assure the students that college is a possibility no matter what their background or financial situation.

“A big thing for these kids, I think, is knowing that they do have a chance [of attending college] because a lot of them don’t realize that,” said Terry. “We really want to let them know that there are ways of working things out so that they get excited for the future.”

Both Garritt and Terry agreed that while the hour-a-week commitment to be a mentor is feasible for the average college student, it is an obligation that, if ignored, can have a lasting negative impact.

“My biggest issue is always to stress the commitment level, because if the mentors miss a week, their student is crying and thinking that their mentor doesn’t like them,” said Garritt. “If someone misses a week or two at a time, I usually try to find another mentor.”

The mentors made sure to stress that regardless of commitment, however, their involvement with the program is just as beneficial for them as it is for the students.

“I know that I’m busy all the time and to go over there and just sit down and be able to breathe and talk to a child is just great,” said Terry. “You can see the excitement on their faces when you walk in, and a feeling like that can’t be compared to much else.

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