By Lilith Flowers and Kaitlyn Kelley
“This year, recently, I struggled a lot because my baby cousin passed away, so I was able to open up to her, and she was, like, there to comfort me,” Mikala Zavala said. “And same thing with my fellow mentees.”
Zavala, a junior at Summit Tahoma, shared her relationship with her mentor, Audrey Hart, and how it has grown since freshman year. “When I was a freshman, I struggled a lot with like – I’m a very shy person – but, like, once you know me, then I start talking a lot,” Zavala said. “So she helped me come out of my shell.”
“My relationship with Ms. Hart has changed a lot,” Zavala said. “Freshman year I wouldn’t tell her personal stuff that was going on in my life, and, as time went on, she started gaining my trust, so I opened up about more personal stuff.”
“One thing that I think works a lot is that they don’t put you with people you know,” Zavala said. She talked about how she has a twin sister, and she is glad they are in different mentor groups. “I feel like I would have just stuck with her, and I wouldn’t have come out of my shell and I wouldn’t have interacted with my other mentor peers.”
This is just one example of how mentor relationships can change over the years and one of the reasons why the mentor system works well. The mentor system allows students to form a close bond with a teacher and other classmates.
“They learn from each other as well; they learned to be more empathetic and more supportive, and they are very sweet to one another,” Tahoma freshman math teacher and mentor Thao Nguyen said.
At the beginning of freshman year, students are assigned to a teacher who will be their mentor for all four years at Summit Tahoma. There are around 20 students per mentor group and either one or two mentor teachers.
Every day for the last 10 minutes, the students will meet with their mentor and have an opportunity to ask questions and get help. On Fridays, the mentor groups spend all day together doing PLT (personalized learning time). PLT is very similar to a study hall where students get to work on their own on whatever they need to do. Mentor groups also have community time where students get to bond and do activities like circle where people can go around and talk about how they are doing.
Over these four years, the teacher gets to watch the students grow both academically and personally. Students and teachers from different grades shared their thoughts on the growth of those relationships.
When asked for their thoughts on the mentor group system, it was all positive reviews, along with some feedback. Sara Black, a senior at Summit Tahoma, said, “I really like the mentor group system. It was a great way for me to transition into my freshman year.” She mentioned how she came here not knowing anyone and having a mentor group helped her make friends. She also had to switch mentors and talked about how it was a hard transition for the students: “Teacher retention is already a problem with Summit, and it interferes with the mentor group experience.”
Part of the mentor group system is weekly one-on-one check-ins with the mentor teacher to keep students on-track and see how they are doing, but that doesn’t always work as planned. “Another problem is weekly check-ins,” Black said. “There are some people that get it weekly and some who meet with their mentor once every several months if they’re lucky.” She said she understands that some students need check-ins more than others, but “it makes the rest of us seem like less of a priority.”
Special Ed teacher and mentor Audrey Hart said, “I love the mentor group system; that’s definitely why I’ve stayed at Summit.” Ms. Hart also agreed that one issue is when teachers leave and that we should work on how to make it better for students when that happens. “I think that it’s a great way to build connections – kind of, a type of support group in a school,” Tahoma physics teacher and mentor Elizabeth Rodriguez said.
“Some students you’re just in a class with them and you’re their friend, but in a mentor group you see them every Friday, you see them every day, and you just grow a bond with them and it’s just amazing,” Arnold Pravong, a Tahoma freshman, said. “In a way, it’s like having a teacher, but it’s much easier to bond,” Pravong said.
Friday PLT is a main aspect of the mentor system because it allows students to have a whole day to make up any work and get ahead. One of the main things students do on Fridays is content assessments, which are tests for each subject to make sure students remember what they learned. Students have until a certain date to pass in order to remain on-track. Teachers must approve these assessments, make sure students don’t cheat and get the students help if needed. This is one of the main things teachers do on Fridays.
History teacher and mentor Eileen Kim said the mentor system is “one of the things that makes Summit special.” She also shared some concerns about Friday PLT: “Fridays for teachers are really tough; I imagine they are tough for students too, because you sit in a room all day doing work.” She also expressed how she has a lot to do on Fridays and mentoring all the students and approving content assessments is a lot to do at once. “It would be better if we modified what Friday PLT looked like.”
“Fridays have been kind of scary as a senior mentor group,” Black said. “Our mentor is like super strict when it comes to us being on top of our work.” But she said they have all been pulling through and bonding about how hard their first semester was.
Students shared how they have helped each other. “There are some students, like my friend Sophia, who have helped me a lot in certain subjects, like Spanish or math.” Pravong said. Zavala said, “A lot of us were struggling in chemistry and Joanna helped us, like, she had a little workshop and we ended up passing that playlist that day.”
“On Fridays we set up ‘stations’ based on class, in order to efficiently get our work done and help those who are behind,” Black said. She talked about how her classmates have kept each other accountable and on top of their work in senior year.
Students and teachers were also asked to share some special traditions or aspects about their mentor group. “We wear Crocs – we wear lemon yellow Crocs,” Ms. Hart said. “Stuff like that I think is super fun. They all came together and decided they wanted Crocs, because we had one student that always wore Crocs, and they thought it was a great idea. I’m so excited they actually wear them. I think it’s the best.”
“Our community time always involves the entire mentor group, so we’re always participating,” Pravong said. He also talked about how they decorated their room for Christmas. “It was very fun experience to just have that much spirit,” he said.
Ms. Rodriguez talked about the many different personalities in her room: “There’s definitely specific personalities we’re all aware of that are larger than life, so sometimes that can turn into ‘don’t do that’ or ‘put that down’.” She said there are many times where these instances cause “different perspectives and different activities and just a lot of laughs; the group of kids is kinda what makes it special. I would say the differences and specific interests that everyone brings to the table are kinda what makes it interesting.”
As mentioned before, sometimes mentors leave and new teachers have to take over. This was the case for Ms. Kim’s mentor group, as she took over one mentor group in their junior year. “They hated me because they missed their old mentor. They were actually really mean to me in the beginning, and at the end they loved me,” Ms. Kim said.
Black tells us how her relationship with her mentor group has grown stronger, “I feel like they’re my family. We are comfortable talking with each other even if we aren’t super close, and I always feel like I have someone to rely on,” Black said.
Ms. Nguyen also told us about how she would like her bond with her students to strengthen. “I hope they grow to love us, not hate us,” Ms. Nguyen said. She talked about how some of her mentees are moving and how she wishes she could make them all stay: “I want to keep them all four years.”
Ms. Hart echoed that feeling of family and friendship with her mentees: “My mentor group is why I come to work every day. I love my mentor group, like, when I come back from breaks I’m, like, ‘ugh, I don’t want to go to work but, yay, I get to see my mentees’. It’s the motivation behind everything,” Ms. Hart said. “I love them a lot.”