Sixty Five Students at Two Schools have Staff Mentors
Fairfax High School (FHS) social worker Cheryl Hunsberger and counselor Liz Velazco met with dean of students James Oberndorf with an idea. Although counseling services are provided to students at FHS, they felt some students needed more one-to-one interaction with an adult on campus. Inspired by Shelley Prince, the MentorWorks Specialist with Fairfax County Public Schools the three decided to create a mentoring program at FHS and Lanier Middle School (LMS). While mentoring programs are common in the elementary schools, the middle and high school did not have a formal mentor-to-student program in place for a number of years. Their hope was to find 5-10 teachers willing to meet with students once a week for lunch or another time outside of the class to ‘check in’ and see how the students were doing both academically and socially.
They did not get five or ten. Thirty five staff members at FHS and 28 at Lanier were willing to help. “We weren’t surprised – we have fantastic teachers,” said Hunsberger. “But we were overwhelmed by their generosity considering how busy they are.”
With an equal mix of boys and girls, the counselors set out to match students and staff members based on personalities and interests. The goal is not to tutor or to counsel but to have an adult on the campus the student can trust or confide in when faced with a challenge. While the students can ask for advice or counsel on issues such as signing up for classes or assignments, sometimes “they just talk about the game over the weekend or American Idol,” says Velazco. “And that is great; we want to keep those lines of communication open so if there is an issue, the student has a trusted adult to help.”
Volunteer mentors were provided with a training session from the counselors. The teachers were given scenarios based on possible situations from students and were able to talk about solutions and brainstorm ideas with each other.
The counselors sent notes home to parents describing the program and found overwhelming support. The mentors consult with parents through email periodically to see if there is anything they need to know or keep the parents in the loop about what is going on at school. Hunsberger also gives credit to FHS administrators as well. “We have great support not only from the parents, but from Principal Dave Goldfarb and Jennifer Glaser, our director of student services. They have shown great leadership with this program.”
One mentor is Dr. Scott Poole, principal at LMS. “I’ve worked with a few different mentees during my tenure as principal at Lanier,” says Poole. “I enjoy the
experience a great deal, for it gives me an opportunity to connect with a
student in need on a more personal level and hear about what he or she is
experiencing in school. As principal, I spend a lot of time monitoring student
success from high above, so to speak, via achievement data, survey responses,
and anecdotal feedback. Working with a student, one on one, provides me a very
different and important perspective. Serving as a mentor reminds me that
helping students succeed, one at a time, is why I enjoy being an educator.”
Velazco, a transitional counselor who splits her time between Lanier and Fairfax sees a promising future for the program. “One long-term goal is to have mentors within the pyramid. We would like to see students at FHS and Lanier mentoring students at the elementary level as well.”
“This is another example of the strong sense of community found in the City of Fairfax,” said Dr. Peter Noonan, superintendent of the City of Fairfax Schools. “We want our students to feel connected with their schools, teachers and community and this wonderful program started by the counselors is doing just that.”