Middle school students and their mentors reflect on year of growth

At the closing sessions of our Be A Middle School Mentor (BAMSM) program last month, students and counselors alike recounted a year of learning, fun, and growth

Sharing reflections at Woodland Hills Intermediate School, for example, one student said there was no doubt in his mind that the program changed him.

“Mentoring was a major, major, major contributor to the person I am now,” D’Marcus told his peers and mentors. “I had major anger issues when we started… But this helped me with being able to be myself.”

For Vann Williams, a Senior Manager of Wabtec Corp’s Information Technology Service Desk that’s what makes volunteering as a mentor meaningful. “I love seeing the growth of the mentees, how they’re changing from the beginning of the program to the end.”

In partnership with United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Consortium offers Be A Middle School Mentor in three districts—Clairton, McKeesport Area and Woodland Hills.

The program is intended to support students in understanding the importance of their schooling, thinking about the future and in growing socially and emotionally. The Consortium structures its sessions so that the students get the benefit of working with peers and mentors in groups as well as opportunities to work with individual mentors.

Group activities often take the form of games and typically aim at helping students develop social and emotional skills such as communication and collaboration that are important to future success. Among the most popular during the 2019-2020 school year was a Survival Challenge, where kids worked individually and in teams to identify the 10 most important things they’d need to take from a ship to survive on a deserted island.

“It was kind of thing where you could see them learning to think critically, communicate and solve interpersonal challenges that come with working in teams,” said Frank Kamara, a Consortium Program Associate who organizes BAMSM along with Program Director Gina Barrett.

“We often play games,” said Barrett. “But they’re games that help the students develop skills, while giving them a chance to have fun with each other and with their mentors. The games also are great ice-breakers and help build relationships.”

Other highlights included a mid-year college exploration project, in which students worked both independently and with individual mentors to research colleges they might like to attend. At the end of the year, the three programs all offered opportunities for career and/or college exploration, including a mock “career fair” in McKeesport where mentors shared their own career experience with students in roundtable discussions.

Because the mentors’ shared experience is wide-ranging, career activities can give students opportunities to ask questions and learn about fields ranging from ministry, nursing, and public safety to information technology, teaching, fundraising and counseling, among others.