Arts, Faith and Humanities

COVID-19 Didn’t Stop Mentoring Program for Middle School Students

Written by Dean Forbes

September 10, 2020

Seattle U student mentors

Seattle U student mentors during a lighter virtual moment.

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Since 2015, Seattle U staff and students have led mentoring programs for students at Washington Middle School. And like all things impacted by COVID-19, this program required new thinking after Seattle Public Schools moved to remote instruction last April.

Since 2015, Seattle U staff and students have led mentoring programs for students at Washington Middle School as part of RAMP (Redhawk Academic Mentoring Program), an element of the Seattle University Youth Initiative. And like all things impacted by COVID-19, this program required new thinking after Seattle Public Schools moved to remote instruction last April.

LaKesha Kimbrough, Washington Middle School site manager, and Nakiya Baker, AmeriCorps Vista Member, explored online mentoring programs for the middle school scholars. Taking into consideration parental consent, legal concerns, privacy, safety and program design, as well as Seattle U student employees interested in continuing in their roles, the team piloted drop-in “e-mentoring” sessions three days a week this spring and summer. In all, 19 middle schoolers were mentored by 12 Seattle U students.

With themed days on academic subjects, lessons and activities and homework help time, three sessions were held each day for a total of nine drop-in slots. Weekly reflection conversations with mentors provided space to address challenges and support new strategies to keep the students engaged. Morning sessions focused on academics while afternoons meant enrichment activities including fitness, college explorations on Google Earth, virtual field trips such as museum tours, origami making and cooking lessons. ChangeMakers, a new program to support the transition of scholars from 8th to 9th grade, was piloted with rising 8th graders. A total of 149 virtual sessions were held from May to the end of July.

Kimbrough says RAMP and ChangeMakers will continue online for six weeks of programming each quarter working with grades 6 through 8. Fall mentoring is scheduled to begin Oct. 5.

The Seattle U student mentors include those who had previously worked with the program in-person as well as students who have been involved with the Center for Community Engagement in other capacities, such as working at SUYI’s elementary site, Bailey Gatzert Elementary, with JumpStart or with family engagement programs.

“This experience has really helped me in dealing with COVID because it demonstrates the bonds that can still be formed remotely,” says SU student Desiree Centia, '23. “Being behind our screens has not inhibited us from building a sense of community within our space and for that I am grateful."

“One-on-one mentoring was great and I loved working with scholars in that setting, but it wasn’t until e-mentoring that I was really given opportunities to run with more creative ways of interacting with knowledge,” adds SU student Andrew Tuttle, '22.

Anne Porter is a parent to son Francis, who she describes as “a bright student challenged by mild autism and ADD.” He participated in the afterschool mentoring as well as the ChangeMakers pilot and his experience was unique.

Porter said she thought that interacting with the mentors “who shared their experiences, offered guidance and demonstrated unconditional caring about him would help him grow and feel accepted in ways that the typical school environment could not. I noticed the mentors took care to focus on Francis’ interests, had planned activities and were very enthusiastic about helping the students any way they could.” 

The pilot also was extremely helpful in designing the programming for this coming academic year “as we learned things such as most effective ratios of mentors and scholars in the online learning space and ways to be intentional about implementing strategies to support social emotional and academic learning virtually,” Kimbrough says. “We learned so many things from the summer pilot. We learned ways to support scholars when we have multiple age groups in the same space and how to be creative utilizing the tools on Zoom. We started learning ways to help keep vastly different personalities engaged and were reminded of the need to be flexible and adaptable in real time.”

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