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Learning the unwritten rules

New mentoring program eases freshmen into Sterling High School

STERLING – Remember what it was like to be a freshman in high school?

Remember how important it was to know those “unwritten rules” of the school – the etiquette of passing time, the good (and not-so-good) teachers, the cheers for Friday-night football games.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to have an upperclassman to turn to for advice?

Sterling High School, come the fall, is launching a mentoring program that pairs freshmen with juniors and seniors.

The program is the next step in the Freshman Academy model, which aims to create a smaller, less intimidating, less threatening “school within a school” atmosphere.

“We want to give them a peer in the building who they can go to with questions and concerns that they might not feel comfortable going to an adult with, to teach them the unwritten rules of the high school, ... all those things that many times kids are worried about but too afraid to ask about,” Principal Jason Austin said.

The program also will establish a sizable group of upperclassmen leaders.

Juniors and seniors applied to be mentors; they needed to secure teacher recommendations and demonstrate their leadership abilities. Almost 50 students were selected for the new program.

“I thought it would be a really good thing to help out the incoming freshmen,” said Josh Knie, 17, a senior. “It’s tough to be a freshman, and it will be nice to have a senior to help them out.”

“It gives them someone to look up to, to be friends with right off the bat,” said Kestrel Smoot, 16, a junior. “They can associate themselves with someone, something already here.”

The mentors already have gone through a couple of training sessions that included discussions about the traits of good leaders, work on the developmental assets, and role playing through tricky situations.

“You are going to be that first contact they have at this school,” counselor Darci Francis said at a training session Wednesday. “They will look up to you.”

The mentors already are laying the groundwork for their relationships with their freshman mentees; they have contacted their three or four mentees and will be setting up getting-to-know-you meetings this summer, before the start of the school year.

“I think I’ll try to show them around and just talk about high school – what to expect when you get here,” said Katie Gvozdjak, 17, a senior.

“I’ll encourage them to get involved, join some clubs or sports or go to some of the football games,” Smoot added.

Sterling High School has had upperclassmen leaders before – through the Building Lasting Impressions that Never Die (B.L.I.N.D.) group – but never true mentors and never enough to reach an entire grade level.

“In the next 2 years, we want to train 80 to 100 mentors,” Austin said. “In the past, through the B.L.I.N.D. retreat, we were only able to train 15 to 20. This will more than double our numbers.

“And really, for us, it’s all about assets. ... The more kids we can equip with assets and leadership skills, the better.”

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