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Mentors making a difference in Somerset

“I think it’s important that the kids in our community know that the adults in our community support them and whatever tools we can provide are important to their growth. Getting to meet the students one-on-one is very important,” said volunteer mentor Patty Schachtner. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)1 / 3
Folks who are interested in mentoring need to be available to meet with two to three students once a month for 45 minutes. Sessions begin at 7:30 a.m. with refreshments including sweet rolls, juice and coffee. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)2 / 3
“As a mentor, I admit that I didn’t have all the answers when I was in school and that it’s perfectly normal to have questions and not know what your career path is going to be. The expectation is that we’re here to help provide some answers and maybe share some experiences we found to be beneficial as we were going through the same process,” said volunteer mentor Dan Stluka. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)3 / 3

Somerset

Good ideas have a way of finding their way around different school districts. Such is the case with the new mentoring program started this past spring at Somerset High School by school counselor Jenna Evenson.

School Board member Patty Schachtner, a participant in a mentoring program related to STEM curriculum in the Hudson School District, suggested Evenson look into the program as a possibility for the Somerset district.

Evenson was invited to shadow the Hudson program last spring. Students in Hudson are required to participate in the mentoring program as part of their STEM requirements. The curriculum for the mentoring program had been shared with Hudson from another school district.

"Originally we wanted to require all juniors to participate in the program, but since this is our first time through, we thought, 'Let's do it voluntarily,'" said Eveson.

Evenson put the word out through email, social media and a story in the newspaper that she was looking for people interested in volunteering to be mentors.

Folks who were interested would need to be available to meet with two to three students once a month for 45 minutes. Students who sign up are required to attend. To consistently accommodate everyone's schedules, sessions start at 7:30 a.m. Mentors are required to participate in a one-time, 60-minute training session in addition to undergoing a thorough background check.

"We opted to see how many students signed up first and then it became our responsibility to find enough mentors. Right now, we have 16 mentors and 35 students," said Evenson.

The 2-1 ratio keeps sessions personal and meaningful for both the mentor and students. Mentors are matched to students based on information they submit during the application process, including things like why they want to mentor, their background and interests, and their career.

Sessions begin with refreshments including sweet rolls, juice and coffee.

"It acts as an incentive and it creates a good social atmosphere. Students show up, chat, and it gets things started," explained Evenson.

Those considering whether or not to become mentors might be relieved to know the curriculum does not include calculus or physics. Instead, mentors are guided by a workbook which lays out ideas and a plan for each month's session.

The curriculum is developmental in nature. It emphasizes using conversation and sharing from personal experiences to build comfortable relationships between mentors and their students. Communicating more effectively, thinking more spontaneously and building confidence are a few of the goals.

"We would love for mentors to cover the suggested topics, but also to expand on them. That's why they're here. They are encouraged to bring their own ideas to the table. These kids hear from us constantly," said Evenson.

One of the focal points of the mentoring process is to get students to consider educational and career options for after high school. Mentors share from their own experience of sorting out their options after high school as well as, in some cases, having counseled their own children through the daunting process. Based on what careers their students are considering, mentors can help with preparation and recommend schools or other training.

Nobody has all the answers

Mentor Dan Stluka remembered he didn't have all the answers when he was in high school.

"Being a mentor is a way to share experiences from my perspective. As a mentor, I admit that I didn't have all the answers when I was in school and that it's perfectly normal to have questions and not know what your career path is going to be. Not having answers is a good thing. The expectation is that we're here to help provide some answers and maybe share some experiences we found to be beneficial as we were going through the same process," said Stluka.

Staying open to options can relieve some of the stress students are feeling, according to Evenson.

"We emphasize to students to keep their options open — you never know what can happen. And we encourage them to continue to find adults in their life who can mentor them, to continue this experience beyond high school," said Evenson.

Making a difference

Junior Jacqueline Martel found out about the program from school counselors and decided to give it a try.

"I like coming because it's interesting to find out the different resources our community has that I didn't really know existed before this. Since I'm a junior now, I needed to start thinking about my future more. It's been very supportive. I would definitely recommend it to other students, plus there's free food," said Martel.

School board member and mentor Patty Schachtner believes supporting students in person makes a difference.

"I think it's important that the kids in our community know that the adults in our community support them and whatever tools we can provide are important to their growth. Getting to meet the students one-on-one is very important. I'm one of those people who, once I meet the kids, I know that our future is safe," said Schachtner.

Junior Tristen Gow appreciates the support.

"One-on-one you get to build a relationship and become more comfortable with that person instead of meeting with 40 people at a time or a new person each time," said Gow.

"Behind all of this, we're simply trying to encourage and enable students to have healthy relationships with peers and especially adults," said Evenson.

To volunteer or find out more about the mentoring program, call Jenna Evenson at 715-247-4848, ext. 221.

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