Mentorship Program: Bridging the gap between primary and secondary school

By Grant H.
Jan. 15, 2020

PCV, Grant, facilitates a mentoring program to aid primary school graduates in their transition to secondary school.

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PCV Grant in action with his mentees and mentors.

When I arrived to my community of service, the sister primary and secondary schools I was assigned to communicated a desire to proceed with an inter-institutional mentorship program to support students in the transition from primary to secondary school. I focused portions of my community assessment process on this specific issue and found that their concern was firmly based in real issues within both of the institutions. The sixth grade primary school students expressed legitimate anxiety surrounding the transition to the secondary school even though the two schools share a fence. Being on the high school side of the fence meant entry into a different world in which it is easy to lose oneself and difficult to make friends. The seventh grade students in the secondary school identified the same issues as the most difficult parts about the transition, and it was notable that of all of the drop-outs from the previous school year, the highest percentage came from those in their first year. There was more than sufficient evidence to warrant the project, so I decided to move forward with it. After consulting with school leadership, we developed a type of community service project so the eleventh grade "mentor" students from the secondary school would be able to earn the required 30 service hours necessary for graduation. We selected the group of 16 mentors, and began the 10 hour training process centered on leadership styles, non-violent communication and emotional vocabulary. After completing this phase of the project, we paired the mentors with one to two "mentee" sixth graders from the primary school and began replicating the workshops.

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PCV Grant and his counterpart, Jessica, with their mentees at the primary school.

We completed all but the last workshop by the time a prolonged nationwide teachers' strike started. For the last topics we planned an event for the sixth grade students to come to the secondary school for a day of dynamic and fun activities. It was a bit of a challenge to reserve a space in the secondary school and make sure that all the students attended because the institution had been closed since the strike began. We managed to successfully reserve the space and all but one of the primary school students attended.

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Mentors leading mentees in a team building activity.

The activity was a huge success considering the two-month hiatus we had taken. Mentors and mentees met at the gates of secondary school and entered together to begin an icebreaker and different games with the goal of developing positive communication, one of which included leading a blindfolded team member through an obstacle course using nonverbal instructions. At the end of the activity we broke up into different games, including a pick-up game of soccer and a trivia station in which the runner up had a balloon filled with either flour or water popped over their heads. The students left this activity wet, covered in flour, more confident and excited to see their mentors the next school year. I owe a great deal of the success of that day to my primary school counterpart, Jessica, who was extremely supportive throughout the duration of the project.

To walk down a hallway in my secondary school and see mentors and mentees spending time together is always super rewarding. It symbolizes the development of relationships that go beyond required participation, age differences, or the social mores that come with them.

Jessica claims the project was a very positive experience. Before the project began, the biggest cause of worry was surrounding the proper selection of mentors. At the project's culmination, Jessica cited the mentors as the project's greatest asset. After conducting exit interviews with 22 of the sixth grade participants, all of them reported their mentor as a source of support in the transition to high school. Only one student said that they didn't feel prepared for high school. 20 of the 22 students said that if they needed to seek out their mentor to ask for advice, they would feel comfortable doing so. 13 of the 14 mentors interviewed reported an increase in their leadership skills. From my perspective, the most gratifying part of the program was seeing the students interact with each other now that the mentors are in their last year of secondary school and the mentees are new students. To walk down a hallway in my secondary school and see mentors and mentees spending time together is always super rewarding. It symbolizes the development of relationships that go beyond required participation, age differences, or the social mores that come with them. And, it might just be my optimism, but I could swear that the environment of the secondary school at large has benefited from their example.

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