counselor Gia Georgiades
Freshman year is a time to become acquainted with the differences between middle school and high school and adjust to a new setting. It provides opportunities to make connections with new friends and staff members. This year, COVID-19 and remote learning have placed barriers, making this more difficult than ever. A group of BG counselors and social workers considered and opened a discussion surrounding the implications of this issue at the end of last school year.
“With everything that went on with the pandemic, we knew we wouldn’t get to meet the freshmen in person,” counselor Gia Georgiades said. “We were wondering what we could do to build those one-on-one connections with those students.”
They decided to create a new program to aid the difficulties of entering a new school remotely: the Freshman Mentor Program. This program randomly pairs groups of freshmen with staff members from all departments.
“Forming the program, we had a list of all the freshmen,” Georgiades said. “We asked all the staff last year if they were willing to be a mentor, then we kind of went through there.”
The students were introduced to their staff mentors at the beginning of the school year during virtual freshman orientation. Ever since, the mentors have sent occasional emails to their mentees, providing them with advice and mentorship regarding clubs and sports, grades and finding their place in a new school. According to freshman Jack Greenspan, the program connects freshmen with go-to staff members in a time when these connections are otherwise difficult to make.
“The emails are just checking in and making sure mentally we’re doing good and academically we’re putting in enough effort into school,” Greenspan said. “Just those sorts of questions to make sure you’re on the right track and you’re not falling behind.”
The program has received positive feedback from both incoming freshmen and staff members throughout the school year. Many freshmen have attributed a sense of community and involvement to the program, Georgiades said. For this reason, the founders and involved staff members plan to continue the program in the future, even if COVID-19 is no longer an issue.
“We hope to improve the program in years to come,” counselor Jill Hamilton said. “We are learning from the students and our interactions and hope to continue to offer the support they need.”
While the Freshman Mentor Program will be continued for future classes of incoming freshmen, staff members are not able to follow their mentees throughout all four years of high school. According to Georgiades, there would not be enough staff members to fulfill this need. The program hopes that by providing students with a trusted staff member to connect them with resources throughout the entirety of freshman year students will be able to find their place and meet other teachers, club sponsors and coaches later on.
“I think it could help students get a feel for some of the teachers because these are teachers that they either have or could have in future years,” Greenspan said. “It could give you a feel for talking with and being able to trust a teacher.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Freshman Mentor Program aims to instill a sense of community and provide incoming freshmen with a preview of their new school. According to Georgiades, the founders and staff mentors aspire to ease the transition from middle school to high school, preventing students from falling behind and giving them the best possible high school experience.
“Our number one goal is to offer a safe and enjoyable environment for all students to grow,” Hamilton said. “It starts with relationships.”