West mentors help freshmen adjust to high school in midst of pandemic

Maddie Beery, Contributing Writer

While students learned remotely, Junior and Senior Mentors virtually connected with freshmen to welcome them to Glenbard West and familiarize them with their new environment.

“The Junior and Senior Mentor Program pairs a cohort of incoming freshmen with mentors, selected through faculty recommendation and an application process, to navigate Glenbard West academically, socially and logistically,” says Mrs. Shah, an English teacher and mentor coordinator. Mrs. Slowinski, another English teacher and mentor coordinator, says the program’s ultimate goal is to help freshmen “feel like they have an audience to connect with” and “someone that they can turn to for support and guidance.” 

Will Humble, a Senior Mentor, says he joined the program because “getting off to a great start freshman year has been so important to my high school experience, and I want to make sure everyone else has the same chance.”

“Prior to school starting in August, the Mentors created a freshmen orientation experience that included several videos, such as introducing freshmen to the school, providing tips from their teachers and just getting them excited about starting high school,” says Mrs. Shah. “We also had the Junior and Senior Mentors contact, via a phone call and an email, all of their freshman mentees,” says Mrs. Slowinski.

In September, the program hosted an activity fair on Google Meets, where “every club made a short info video, and freshmen got to watch a couple that seemed interesting to them,” says Avnika Surapaneni, a Senior Mentor.

The week before Glenbard West shifted to a hybrid learning model, “freshmen could come into West and walk their schedules. The Mentors were all there to help students figure out where their classes would be,” says Surapaneni. Going forward, “the Mentors will continue to have Google Meet meetings with their freshmen on varying topics,” Mrs. Shah elaborates.

In transitioning to a virtual format, the program met a few challenges: “so much of mentorship is about personal connection, so that’s been tough in a virtual setting,” says Mrs. Shah. Mrs. Slowinski mentions another challenge is ensuring that students “stay engaged in those virtual sessions. They happen outside of the school day, so it’s hard to make sure that all students are there and all students are participating.”

Ellie Beaudoin, a Freshman Mentee, agrees that it “can be hard to focus on remote school,” and that it is “really hard to make those deep connections online.” While meetings with Mentors look different from previous years, freshmen have continued to benefit from the program’s events. Beaudoin says “the Zoom with the mentors giving advice was probably the most help.” Drew Bennett, another Freshman Mentee, says he appreciated the opportunity to “walk [his] entire schedule and find the most efficient routes between classes so that [he] had references for the first day.” 

Bennett says one of his biggest takeaways from the program is to “take risks and try new things.” He finds it “important for discovering things that you’re interested in and being a part of the community.” Beaudoin says she has learned the importance of time management, “so [she has] a balance of things to do for fun and things [she has] to do for school.”

Surapaneni hopes to advise her freshmen mentees “to take a deep breath and not to stress so much because everything will be okay in the end. Also, remember to cherish the fun parts of high school because 4 years go by fast!” 

Mrs. Slowinski says “we’re incredibly proud of our junior and senior Mentors and their flexibility and willingness to rethink this program and to work hard to make changes to support our freshmen students. They’ve been awesome in just kind of rolling with the changes.”