Kelly Jenkins and Halaynea Shanahan didn’t know each other a few months ago, but if you saw them together today, you wouldn’t know it. Laughing and smiling as they sit together at Thornapple Kellogg Middle School, it’s obvious they have fun together. This team of adult mentor and middle school studenthave been out to eat a couple times, are making plans to see a movie and go bowling, and are looking forward to nicer weather when they can get outside. That’s what Thornapple Kellogg Middle School was seeking when they matched the two through its new STRIVE program. STRIVE stands for “Students Taking Renewed Interest in the Value of Education.”
While other groups focus primarily on education, Tom Enslen, superintendent of Thornapple Kellogg schools, and the organizer of the program, said he wanted this program to be different. “It’s not all about education for us,” he said. “It’s about a new path, new direction and new focus.”
Fourteen students have been meeting with their mentors since the beginning of the year, and positive reports have been coming from both sides. “People have really been energized by it,” said Enslen. One student already has told him it’s made him start to work on breaking his bad habits.
“The good thing about it is it’s someone I can trust and actually talk to,” said Halaynea, a 14-year-old eighth grader whose mother lives out of state.
Jenkins sees her role as an adult friend who doesn’t take on a parenting role. “I have a real big heart for middle school students,” Jenkins said, adding jokingly, “I think it’s because my brain never ages.”
Halaynea and Jenkins admit it was awkward when they first met, but now the two text and call each other, besides having fun “girl time” together. “It gives me something to do to get out of the house,” Halaynea said, smiling.
Needed for Older Students
Enslen said the district had done well in making mentorships available for lower grades, but felt there was a need in the middle school and high school for such programs.
After a high school teacher told him about seeing a video on STRIVE, he found out more from Rockford High School, which also uses the program. He talked to teachers about it, and when they voiced their support, he started spreading the word through the local Rotary Club, churches and school staff, that mentors were needed. About 20 people came to introductory meetings last spring and fall.
Teachers were asked to recommend students they thought would benefit from a mentor, by taking into consideration grades, behavior, family situation. Enslen contacted parents and the students, and all of them agreed to participate.
Donations fund the program and more mentors are welcome. “We’re hoping this will be long-lasting,” he said.