Benefits mutual for mentors, buddies

Brooke Stevens/The Herald
Dubois Middle School fifth-graders Travis Verkamp, left, Kirk Steinhart, Malachi Baumeister and Nick Burgan chased after Northeast Dubois High School junior Lucas Schulthies as they played football at the middle school Friday. Through a mentoring program in its first year, volunteer students from the high school visit with select students at the middle school once a month to eat lunch together and play games at recess.

By CLAIRE MOORMAN
Herald Staff Writer

DUBOIS — Dubois Middle School students were buzzing with excitement as they searched through the crowd gathered in the lunchroom Friday for their new, high school friends. Throughout the room, the younger students munched pizza with new teenage friends, chatting about shared interests and experiences.

At the beginning of the school year, middle school guidance counselor Camille Berg began working with the Northeast Dubois High School Natural Helpers club to bring older student mentors to the middle school once a month. Berg and her fellow teachers selected about 20 middle-schoolers to participate who would benefit most — based on social and academic criteria — from a friendship with the high school volunteers.

A middle school student pairs with the same high school student each month, and the pairs eat lunch together before heading outside or to the gymnasium to play games at recess.

“It’s just a good relationship and they can talk about anything,” Berg said. “All week long I’ve had kids come up to me and say, ‘My mentor is coming on Friday!’”

Paige Mundy coordinates the Natural Helpers program at local high schools through the Tri-Cap Teen Wellness Center. Natural Helpers are students recognized for having a natural knack for helping.

Tri-Cap adds members to the Natural Helpers club each year by interviewing high school students about which of their peers they are most comfortable sharing problems and feelings with. Those teens identified as the most helpful are sent to a Tri-Cap training retreat, Mundy said.

Mundy said the Natural Helpers students who volunteered for the program are excited to befriend the young students they are paired with.

“My high school kids want to come down more often. The teachers let them out of class about 15 minutes early so they can get down here in time for lunch to start. It’s been working out really well,” she said, adding that Tri-Cap representatives plan to continue the mentoring program next year and are considering extending it to other local schools.

Most of the student pairs did not know each other before the mentoring program began in September. Junior Taylor Borden and fifth-grader Erin Braun had never met before the first day they shared lunch in the middle school cafeteria.

“When we first met and started this, we just got to know each other, like learning names, nicknames, parents and activities,” Taylor said. Now she and Erin are good friends and can comfortably talk about anything they want.

Sophomore William Canary said he plans to be involved in the program for the next two years if possible. He and his partner, fifth-grader Toby Dooley, often talk about Xbox games and play a special game of tag the middle-schoolers invented.

“I like that we can hang out,” Toby said before he and William ran out the door to play at recess.

Junior Whitney Mehringer and fifth-grader Devin Goldsberry enjoy playing on the dirt mound behind the school after finishing their lunches together. The pair is one of the only boy-girl partnerships in the program. Mehringer felt she could relate more to a middle school boy, and Berg and Mundy paired her with Devin as they try to make the best possible pairings for each individual.

“We talk about how school is going and what he likes to do,” Whitney said. “I think it’s a lot of fun.”
                                                                                 
Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.




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