Celebrate National Mentoring Month
By Amanda Daniels
January is National Mentoring Month , an annual observance started in 2002 by nonprofit MENTOR National and Harvard ’ s T . H . Chan School of Public Health , that highlights the positive outcomes of mentoring relationships . According to MENTOR , “ mentoring , at its core , guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them , assures them they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges , and makes them feel like they matter . . . yet 1 in 3 young people will grow up without this critical asset .”
Halifax Area School District understands this asset and has been offering student-tostudent mentoring since 1999 with its Big Cat Little Cat Mentor Program . The program partners high schoolers in grades 10-12 with students in grades 2-6 who may need academic and social guidance , and it has about 40 pairs . The high school students , or Big Cats , meet with their Little Cats for about an hour each week throughout the school year , offering homework help and social-emotional support .
Big Cats are either recommended by teachers and staff based on a student ’ s exemplary character and maturity , or students can volunteer to serve as a mentor . Either path requires an application process , an interview and several hours of training . Little Cats are referred by their teachers , and parent permission is required . Big Cats and Little Cats are matched based on similar interests and life experiences , and the pairs work together until the Big Cat graduates , or one has a reason to leave the program , thus enabling a long-term relationship that benefits them both .
Today , the program is helmed by Susan Ziegler , high school emotional support counselor , and Stephanie Hoover , elementary guidance counselor . The pair has taken the program to new heights by changing eligibility criteria and putting the Big Cats in charge of coordinating their visits themselves . Their tweaks to the program have helped ensure its longevity . Because of COVID , they were unable to run the program last year , and parents have been calling to ask when it will resume this year , a testament to the success and effectiveness of the mentor relationships the advisors help guide . “ We definitely feel it benefits both the high school students and the elementary students ,” Hoover says .
While the older students often earn volunteer hours – for the National Honor Society , for example – the program is about more than just satisfying requirements or providing homework help . It ’ s about emotional well-being , resiliency and helping students flourish . Ziegler asserts , “ We have to look at social-emotional learning and getting through school with good mental health .”
Hoover says , “ One of the top things that leads to a child being resilient is having connections . Whether it ’ s an adult or an older student , having somebody that is their person that they have a connection with is really , really powerful , and there ’ s tons of research that backs that . The top three factors that lead to resiliency are a loving and caring adult , high expectations and an opportunity to participate . This program provides opportunities for all three of those things to be there and help these kids to be more resilient .” For more information on the Big Cat Little Cat program contact Stephanie Hoover at HooverS @ hasd . us or Susan Ziegler at ZieglerS @ hasd . us .
High school students ( Big Cats ) spend time playing games or sports and offer homework and academic support during their regular visits with Little Cats .
January / February 2022 PSBA Bulletin 39