Brattleboro students learn about themselves in mentoring program


BRATTLEBORO >> It's the last week of school at Brattleboro Union High School, and the class — mostly seniors wearing purple and white T-shirts proclaiming "Straight Outta Here/Class of 2016" — is still fully engaged.

The students in the Mentoring, Coaching and Leadership Course are presenting multimedia summaries of their semester-long work as mentors and getting feedback from their peers and instructors — Ashley Nadeau and Ron Stahley — about their challenges and accomplishments.

The 17 students of the mentoring class are among the 287 students who registered for 42 dual-enrollment courses during the 2015-2016 school year, offered by the Windham Regional Collegiate High School as a way to engage high school students in southeastern Vermont and in neighboring New Hampshire. The courses allow students to complete high school graduation requirements and at the same time earn college credit, blending high school and the first two years of college in a course of study that is both rigorous and supportive.

Some of the mentoring students initially wondered about their capacity to make a difference in their work as mentors. The curriculum addressed topics such as the concepts, principles, practices, and stages of coaching/mentoring; child development and identity; different learning styles; and how to say good-bye to your kids. Their classwork prepared them for their practical experiences in the elementary and middle school placements.

"We also identified the worst things you can do as a mentor, and the right things to do," one student observed.

The mentoring students also had mentors to guide them in their work. Chayse Cunniff and Susannah Strothman worked at Putney Central School with school counselor Hillary Keach. Connecting with 8th graders transitioning to high school, Chayse commented that the mentoring experience, "Made me think about myself at that age. As an eighth grader, I definitely could have benefited from more help with the transition. I didn't know about so many things, like how to plan coursework or manage my work load."

Headed to Lyndon State College next year, Cunniff hopes to study psychology, with a focus on teenagers and transitions — providing support "when kids need the most help."

Daniel Burdo, providing additional track coaching for students at Brattleboro Area Middle School, participated in organizing and leading workouts.

"It was a lot more challenging than I thought," he said, tuning in to feelings of the students as they worked to develop their skills. "Kids can be hard on themselves as they are developing control of their bodies ... when they make mistakes."

Burdo said the mentoring opened his eyes "to the power of positive and negative educational experiences ... how sensitive kids are to what we teachers say and do, how powerfully it affects them."

Hannah Wilson also mentored at BAMS in gym, Kroka, and other classes, to help with students reluctant to participate. Developing her vision of becoming a mentor who is understanding, approachable, trustworthy, and supportive, she discovered and developed her interest in encouraging participation, helping kids feel included, and working with students with special needs.

Cheick Diakite's goals in the weight room at BUHS were to encourage students while helping them develop and assert confidence, create unity, and have fun. To lessen the kind of competition among students that reduces participation, he developed worksheets to record individual progress, and promoted games that encouraged involvement by all.

Ty Grannum coached football for 8th graders at BAMS. While teaching stretching, stance, take- offs, pass/rush and other specific skills, his larger goal was to "teach in a way where everyone can learn, and help them achieve their own solutions."

Like other high school mentors, Grannum requested feedback from his 8th grade students.

"Dear Ty," one wrote, "I really enjoyed the amount of thought, humor and difficulty you put into our practice. I hope we can have practice again soon."

Bethany Martin worked with Kathryn Mason, counselor at Oak Grove School, to support the Student Leadership Council, Girls' Group, and Playground Helpers. In addition, she participated in Thompson House visitation and selection of a school mascot. Her goals included "always being there for the students, staying positive, helping out with anything, knowing when to say 'no' and getting outside help when needed."

Her students also provided valuable feedback.

"She had some great ideas that we wouldn't have come up with on our own" and "It was helpful having a high schooler help us on different things."

One wondered, "Where are you going to college?"

Jack Ochukpue, working at Green Street school with his "lunch bunch," library, and recess student groups, developed activities that included all students across age groups, with guidance from counselor Tracy Binet-Perrin.

"She was positive and inspiring ... my anchor. She really knows how to talk to kids."

Also at Green Street under Binet-Perrin's guidance was Katia Brock, who worked with elementary students to support reading, participation, and science activities.

If there were doubts about the students' ability to make an impact, Binet-Perrin assessed the results: "Both interns are making incredible connections with our students ... In a meeting yesterday, the staff were raving about Katia and Jack, wishing that we could have them all year. Their maturity and dedication to the program is outstanding and we are so impressed with their skills with the children."

"These high school students made very strong connections with our younger students providing them with support and guidance that will help them long into their educational careers," said Stahley, Windham Southeast Supervisory Union superintendent and one of the mentoring class instructors. "Several of the high school students were participants in our Middle School Leadership Training as younger students. It is inspiring to see how these students have used those skills to have such a positive impact on the younger students they worked with."

WRCHS will expand its offerings in the 2016-17 school year with over four dozen courses planned, including a pre-nursing program and an array of visual arts course. Tom Yahn, who directs the program, notes, "We have more dual enrollment offerings than ever in the 2016-17 school year and are glad to report that the Mentoring class will have 12 students participating next spring."

For more dual enrollment information, including financial support, vouchers and scholarships, call Heather Harrison, Registrar of Collegiate High School at 802-451-3421.

Carolyn Olivier has been a founding staff member at Landmark College and has worked as a teacher, writer, staff developer and grantmaker for over 43 years in the field of education. She can be contacted at


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