Students gain confidence and build social skills through Be A Middle School Mentor

National Mentoring Month found students participating in our Be A Middle School Mentor (BAMSM) programs researching colleges with the help of adults offering an hour of their time each week.

One Monday earlier this month, for example, Kara Prentice was on the internet helping her mentee Eugene at McKeesport Area School District’s Founders’ Hall Middle School learn about Ohio State University. Like others in the program, he got a college to research from the logo on a sweatshirt he chose at BAMSM’s “Hoodies for the Holidays” event.

Eugene said he’s leaning toward joining the Army or Air Force, but during the BAMSM session, he also learned the military and college aren’t mutually exclusive. Among other options, he could join R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officers Training Corps) while still in high school.

Discussing colleges or career paths is just one of the ways caring adults can help kids think about their future goals and understand that doing well in school is the first step toward reaching them. BAMSM programs are designed to give kids that support. In partnership with United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Consortium offers BAMSM in Clairton and Woodland Hills school districts as well as McKeesport Area.

After finishing their college profiles during the session in McKeesport, Charles and Isaiah played a game of Ketch-up with local Fire Chief Jeffrey Tomovcsik. They took turns rolling the dice and drawing cards that gave them ice-breaker questions to answer so that they could get to know more about each other. Some were silly, others serious. Big grins broke out around the table as the boys and Tomovcsik found out they shared a passion for the same school subject—History.

Tomovcsik signed on as a mentor because “I love working with kids,” he said, noting that there are a lot in his community who he knows need extra support.

Students join the program voluntarily, some because their school counselors suggest it, others because they learn about BAMSM from friends.

Isaiah said he’s found BAMSM helpful for “learning social skills and how to talk to people who like different things.”

Similarly, Alex said that for her, “It’s been learning a lot about communication—how to talk to people and really engage in conversation.”

Their answers affirm important aims of mentoring, said Frank Kamara, a Consortium Program Associate who helps organize BAMSM.

“During adolescence, even kids who have good role models and supportive families sometimes need the outside perspective of another adult,” he said. “At that age, all kids are struggling with social and emotional growth.”

It’s apparently something Angelina, another McKeesport middle schooler, has intuitively understood.

Now in her third year with BAMSM and bringing her sister Mylie along, she said the most important thing the program is teaching her is “how to be yourself.”