Red Hook HS mentoring program continues in a time of COVID

Over 200 Red Hook High School students are a part of the mentoring program for the second consecutive academic school year. 

The program, according to its mission statement, tries to provide senior and junior mentor students the opportunity to grow in self-confidence and leadership skills while they build relationships with new students.

The program was launched in the spring of 2019 after a student services survey showed that students felt a lack of community and school spirit. 

At that time, Principal Robert McKiernan and Wendy Gentile, a retired secondary school administrator, worked on a plan to bring to Peggy Donofrio, the college and career advisor at the high school. 

“We work to ease the transition into the high school as we believe that our education and leadership opportunities work toward developing personal growth, new friendships, a better understanding of the school culture, increased opportunities for community service and stewardship,” said Gentile. “We believe all these are powerful implements of goodwill in the world.”

There is leadership training for the junior and senior mentors consisting of workshops, required readings and meetings with local community leaders. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the process for the 2020-2021 mentoring program was managed virtually. 

This included the application process, elections for officers and executive mentors, general meetings for the mentors to plan the upcoming year via Zoom and Google Classroom and orientation for both freshmen and new students. 

This year the program’s participants were six officers, 22 executive mentors, 46 mentors and 158 mentees. Mentoring groups were created to help organize the program with 12 freshmen groups, one new student group, 3 organizational groups including the officer board and executive mentors, and a main group sharing information with everyone involved in the program.

On Oct. 13, the school was able to transition to a hybrid learning environment. Student co-presidents of the program Kate Kelly and Eli Staubi helped make the hallways feel welcoming and inspiring with colorful poster signs with messages reading “every great dream begins with a dreamer” and “high school is fun.”

“Since many clubs are not running this year due to the pandemic, the mentoring program decided to partner with the student council to reinforce unity within the school,” said Kelly. 

The officers of the program and the student council are currently planning a can wars to fundraise and collect cans that they will be donating to Red Hook Responds, a local volunteer and charity organization. 

A survey was administered last month amongst the students involved in the mentoring program to see how they are all doing. One mentor said, “I felt less anxious because I was helping someone out,” one mentee said, “The program has helped me feel more comfortable with upperclassmen I hadn’t known before and it has helped with the transition into online classrooms.” 

“This [program] makes everyone feel good in a tough time. I’m so proud of the efforts and meaningfulness, particularly for the freshmen and new students,” said the Board of Education President Kate Kortbus.

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