Harper organizes new mentoring program

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Kaete Schmidt

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Railer Connections provides upperclassmen role models

Junior Jerik Ochoa gets covered with sticky notes during a bonding activity.

Seniors Gavin Powell, Ryan Watkins, junior Dante Harper, senior Richard Regier, juniors Zach Garcia and Jerik Ochoa sit on the floor in Willis Gym as they wait to begin the activity during a Railer Connections meeting.

Playing video games, organizing basketball tournaments and building friendships are all part of a new student mentoring program designed to help ease the transition from middle school to high school. Last semester, social worker Jeanne Harper proposed the Railer Connections program to help freshmen having difficulty adjusting to high school.

Jeanne organized the Railer Connections mentoring program within a month of proposing the idea. She was able to find mentors, along with freshmen, for the program by contacting school staff, coaches and counselors.

“We wanted them to have good school performance, good attendance and be a positive person, outgoing, able to connect with some of the freshmen, able to be professional because they have to maintain confidentiality and also kids that make good decisions in school and out of school,” Jeanne said.

The mentors chosen were juniors Jerik Ochoa, Dante Harper and Zach Garcia and seniors Ryan Watkins, Gavin Powell, Richard Regier and Ethan Torres. All immediately agreed to join the program.
Railer Connections meets once a month during seminar. Each of the eight freshmen are paired with an upperclassmen who they engage with in many different activities.

“Hearing that their parents have said they have been doing really well…It just feels really good. It makes me happy.””

— Jerik Ochoa

“The whole point of the program is just to form that connection and have a fun experience to tie to high school. It’s not academic focused at all. Something fun that helps establish that connection between the freshman and their mentor,” Jeanne said. “Having this positive relationship with the upperclassmen helps them feel a lot more connected so in the long run hopefully they do better in high school.”

In a survey taken by the freshmen in the program at the beginning of the year, many of the answers were very similar. Students’ goals were to maintain good grades, and they each looked forward to coming to the program to play games and spend time with their mentors. One of the freshmen even wrote that their favorite part is “getting to hangout with seniors and be an influence in the school.”

Since the program started, Jeanne and the mentors have noticed a change in the students.

“I have gotten a lot of parent feedback from the freshmen that that is something that their student looks forward to are the days that we meet,” Jeanne said. “The freshmen are able to maintain in class because they want to be able to have that time with their mentor.”

Not only has this program benefited the freshmen involved but it has also made an impact on the mentors.

“Hearing about their grades and how they have been doing better ever since this and hearing that their parents have said they have been doing really good at home too, it just feels really good,” Ochoa said. “It makes me happy.”

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Harper organizes new mentoring program