The Diamond Jenness Secondary School Mentorship Program is already in its fourth year, joining staff with students in the hopes of fostering a more meaningful connection to the school. The program, co-ordinated by librarian Jacquie Richards, was initially created by a group of DJSS staff members who used professional development days to develop guidelines, participation criteria and establish a basic model for the program.
Vice-principal Lynne Beck was among that group. She said staff love spending time with students and being able to interact with them on another level.
“We have an amazing student body here at the school,” she said.
“We want to give students a positive experience in a safe environment. The lessons they learn are lifelong and the focus is really on connecting them to the school.”
This year, roughly 15 staff will be paired with upwards of 20 students.
Mentors select their mentees and it’s the co-ordinator’s job to see what the best fit is. Monthly lunches are the main activity, a time when the pairs can interact with each other outside of the typical teacher-student scenario.
“Mentors understand that their role is different from that of a parent, guardian, or teacher,” states the Program guidelines.
“A mentor is not a disciplinarian or decision-maker for a student.”
Special needs assistant Karen Hoose volunteered to be a mentor because as a team player, she wanted to support a new program. She remembers feeling unattached in Grade 9 and would have welcomed some individual attention outside of class, which led to her desire to be that person for someone at DJSS.
“I find our school to be a vibrant and exciting environment and wanted the opportunity to share that enthusiasm with a student,” she said.
“As a staff member, I’m aware of a lot of the activities and groups at the school and felt that I could perhaps suggest other outlets where a student could make other student connections.”
Hoose said she was unsure of how the program would unfold at first, and what the relationship with the student would be like. She said there was an initial period of uncertainty – not exactly knowing what was expected of each other – that gradually disappeared.
“Over the course of the first few months, I got the feeling that I was building trust with my mentee and we discovered we had shared interests,” she said.
“We connected on a regular basis. The monthly luncheons provided by the Program gave us something to look forward to together, and it was wonderful to have time together, which gave me the time to learn about the things that my mentee was passionate about.”
Some of the mentors keep the same mentee for more than a year, just like Hoose has.
“I never realized in the beginning how positively my mentee would impact me, and I am grateful for the shared interests, opening my mind to new ideas and for being as honest with me as they were.”
The school is looking at broadening the program and possibly pairing Grade 12 students with Grade 8 students.
— Myles Dolphin