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Mentors help sixth graders navigate transition to middle school

Making the transition from elementary school to sixth grade is a tricky one, say Mill Creek Middle School sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Students have to adjust from mainly one classroom to six teachers and six classrooms, get used to new expectations and manage the workload.

Students in the mentor program work to build the tallest balloon tower

The school’s M2M (Mentor to Mentee) program aims to help younger students work through these challenges and others — thanks to the sage wisdom of their older peers.

Mentors, who meet twice a month with up to five sixth graders each during fourth hour or lunch, listen to concerns. They help sixth graders open lockers and navigate the school. They lead team-building exercises and give tips on how to organize time. As a result, sixth graders become more confident and appreciate the interactions with their peers.

“It’s their first time changing classes,” said seventh grader Quinn Clement, who serves as an executive mentor in the program. She is one of 45 mentors who work with 130 sixth graders. “I like supporting them and helping them solve their problems.”

Sixth grader Joey Martinez said his mentor makes sure he’s on track and knows what to do. Classmate Brooklyn Kazemier agrees.

“They help us work together and make sure we’re ready for seventh grade,” Brooklyn said.

From left sixth grade teacher Amy England advises seventh grader Quinn Clement and eighth grader Rory Mehren on mentoring

Staying a Step Ahead

They also talk about what not to do. Quinn remembers what it was like as a sixth grader and the challenge of getting everything done on time. She often procrastinated on assignments and projects until late Sunday night. Mentors advise mentees on how to avoid last-minute stress and get work done ahead of time.

Brooklyn said as a new middle schooler she found it challenging to get to her classes on time and figuring out classroom locations.  But it’s easier to talk to mentors than to teachers, she said. “They have been through the same thing.”

From left, mentor Kayla Schuiling works with sixth grader Juan Pablo Solano to find a way to untangle themselves

Eighth grader Rory Mehren, also a student leader in the program, said younger and older students enjoy time spent together.

“It’s a really fun experience,” he said. He noted most students are very receptive to having a mentor and are “really nice.”

A mentor program in some form has been in place at Mill Creek for more than 10 years, said sixth grade teacher Amy England, who has led the program for the past three years.

“Sixth grade is such a transition year. It’s helpful to have peer-to-peer interactions,” she said.

Mentors stick with their students throughout the year, building bonds and relationships. They play games to build teamwork and self esteem. Sixth graders become more confident as the school year progresses.

In early February, students and mentors competed in a friendly competition to build the tallest balloon tower. They also participated in an anti-bullying exercise with backpacks aimed to show how bullying can wear down a student.

“We’re taught to work together and not to put others down,” said sixth grader Bryce Hankamp.

Students have to apply to become a mentor with teacher recommendations, England said.

Mill Creek Principal Gus Harju said some students take longer to make the shift from elementary to middle school. Middle school requires a shift in mindset. He said the teachers are very supportive and he appreciates the effort England puts into the program.

“We always have competition among the students to be the mentors,” Harju said.

Comstock Park sixth graders Joey Martinez, Bryce Hankamp, Savanna Ouendhe and Brooklyn Kazemier gather to discuss the mentor program
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Karen Gentry
Karen Gentry
Karen Gentry covers Comstock Park. She is from Evansville, Indiana and St. Joseph, Mich. and a graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School and Central Michigan University. She moved to the Grand Rapids area in the mid-1980s and has been a resident of Comstock Park since 2002. She understands the complexity, rewards and challenges of the teaching profession as she has five years of experience as a high school teacher at River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich. and St. Stephen High School in Saginaw. As a reporter for the Advance Newspapers and Mlive she covered Sparta, Kent City and Northview schools. She is happy to be reunited with some of her journalism colleagues and writing about Comstock Park Public Schools for the School News Network. Read Karen's full bio or email Karen.

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