Tag Archives: mentor group

Having a mentor group means having a second family to Tahoma students

By Jannaya Garcia and Priya Kaur

Staff Writers

When walking around Summit Tahoma, it is a common sight to see students dressed up in their mentor gear. Mentor groups at Tahoma have come up with traditions with their group to create some type of clothing article to represent their group. For example, Audrey Hart’s group all have matching yellow Crocs and sweatshirts; Laura Ochoa’s group all have sweatshirts saying “Blue Strips,” the name they came up with for their group.

High school can often be very stressful for students as they feel they do not have anyone to share their stress with. This is where mentor groups play a role.

Jovanna Garcia, a senior at Tahoma, said, “I feel like mentor groups help because at a regular high school you wouldn’t have a group that’s always with you, or, like I said, someone to lean back on, and, because of it, we are able to go into the community more since we are so involved with each other.”

Mentor groups are a very unique part of Summit Tahoma, a high school in San Jose. It is a system in which students get together with the same group of students, paired with a mentor at the end of each day, all throughout their high school journey.

Students are able to share how they’re feeling with their mentors as well as fellow mentees. Over time, they build very close relationships with one another and are able to trust their groups to be there for them.

Not only do mentor groups help strengthen students’ community skills, they also give students a safe space to communicate with their groups. Having this sort of support system gives Thunderbirds the opportunity to confide in a trusted adult and build a family type of bond with a diverse group of students.

Megan Toyama, the assistant director of Tahoma, provided her insight of what the benefits of having mentor groups are. She said, “I think that mentor groups is one of the most unique and special parts of the Summit education. When mentor groups are created, they are crafted intentionally to be diverse in all aspects. This allows students to form community with students that have a different background. When I was a mentor, I thought it was so cool that two students who were in different friend groups were able to be so close because they were in the same mentor group. Additionally, mentors play the key role of the college counselor for their mentees and support them through the college application process.”

In an interview with Tahoma English teacher Michael Haley, who has no mentor group, he described how he has seen growth in students who reach out to their mentors, but he also explained how mentor groups could be improved. “Sometimes the student could depend too much on the mentor rather than the teacher. More student leadership should come out of the mentor groups,” he said. He also shared insight into how he could help resolve these issues if he had his own group.

He said, “I could bring to the mentee paradigm, more growth mindset in students, more open-mindedness and willingness to accept new ideas, and I also can emphasize the Summit value of curiosity.” Micheal Haley believes that if he were to have a mentor group, he could improve some of the habits that he has seen in mentor groups now that he believes needs work.

Although they participate in many team bonding activities with their groups, how exactly do mentor groups help support students with their academic abilities?

See below for a video where mentors and mentees share their experiences:

Facing its stigma by embracing mental health

 By Judy Ly

Rainier Editor-in-Chief 

The aroma of butter and popcorn fills the air. People ranging from toddlers with their parents to a group of college kids line up to buy their movie tickets. A Rainier senior, who asked to remain anonymous, checks the ratings and trailers beforehand, seeking to assure herself that she can handle the movie in theaters.

“I’m constantly avoiding things too, to make sure I don’t have to end up in a depressive state or end up having panic attacks. I can’t go to the movies with my friends unless I have like trigger warnings set out for me, and I look at the ratings and the trailers so I know I can handle it at the theaters. I can’t see things that have possible suicide mentions or anything that can be in any way triggering to me, just in case I end up going down that path again,” she said. This is only one of the many examples of her generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder affecting her daily life.

“That path” refers to her depression: “For my depression, I guess every day I’m just kind of trying to pick myself up because it’s kind of — you’re kind of in a constant state of like you don’t want to be alive and everything is exhausting and everything is just kind of like, ‘I wouldn’t have to do this if I were dead, you know. I wouldn’t have to deal with being paranoid if I was gone, you know, and if my friends hate me, I should probably just die so they don’t have to deal with me,’ and things like that.”

She added, “I feel like I can’t live a normal teenage life because I’m constantly like wrapped in bubble wrap to keep me safe, I guess, so that’s kind of how it affects me.”

On FAFSA Cash Night, Rainier seniors accompanied with their family members slowly trickle into a classroom as one of the teachers starts grilling burgers in the quad. Posters for the following spirit day are stretched out on the asphalt, and seniors line up at a table nearby to get some food.

For Rainier senior Angela Flores, that night was a big deal: she would be the first generation in her family to attend college. 


Rainier senior Angela Flores PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

However, the night turned sour when she was trying to fill out the FASFA form and started having a panic attack. During her panic attack, her dad didn’t understand why she was panicking and became impatient. FAFSA Night wasn’t the first time her dad had reacted negatively to her mental health.

After taking diagnostic quizzes, Flores concluded the scores she received were higher than average. She then went on online chats and talked to multiple therapists.

While online tools can be informative and helpful to be able to identify a cluster of symptoms, Rainier school counselor Tati Pham explained that using them for a diagnosis can be tricky: “Without somebody there or a professional there to help you sort of process, one, you can be misdiagnosing yourself or two, when you get your diagnosis, sometimes it can be very jarring, right. It can be shocking almost to see what the results are, and so without having somebody to kind of walk you through that or process that, you’re just kind of left with just the shock and not more of the optimism or hopefulness, or practicalities that would come — or practical advice rather, that would come from sitting with a professional and getting your diagnosis that way.”


Rainier school counselor Tati Pham PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

In addition, Ms. Pham said, “It is kind of hard to discern whether a website is credible, or the information is credible, or if the information is up-to-date and so that’s why — that’s the other thing why sometimes I would not recommend a student to go that route to get their diagnoses or diagnosis. It’s because we don’t know if that site is credible and so, going on a site that isn’t very credible and then getting a result that you’re now kind of attached to, whether that’s intellectually or emotionally, is not — that’s why. I mean, it could be detrimental.”

One of the next steps Ms. Pham suggested was to reach out to someone with a “professional lens” in the case where there’s some level of severity in the cluster of symptoms. That can be someone such as a counselor, a therapist or even your primary care physician or pediatrician.

This includes online teletherapy too. She added, “That’s still interacting with a professional rather than just like an assessment … So I’m all for online therapy / teletherapy.”  

When asked how to see if an online therapist is credible, Ms. Pham explained that there are databases that would contain information such as where they went to school and what their credentials are, which should be available: “You can ask the therapist also what their credentials are and make a decision that way.”

Regardless, Ms. Pham concluded, “If they are licensed or if they are an intern, it means they took at least some steps to get where they are, and, even if they credible, it doesn’t mean necessarily that you will develop a good therapeutic relationship. There’s still some trial and error in interacting with your clinician or establishing a relationship with them.”  

Flores recalls having her first panic attacks when her grandpa passed when she was nine years old. Growing up in a Hispanic household, she says there’s an expectation of having to be independent and mature at a young age: “I was taught not to seek for help, taught not to cry, or taught to be the bigger person, or taught to solve my problems on my own, and that’s literally everything that anxiety prevents me from doing.”

Similar to the case with Flores and her father, oftentimes mental illness is disregarded rather quickly due to the taboo associated with it. Seham El-Diwany, a pediatrician and director of the teen health center at Kaiser Permanente, gave an example of how someone might not want to seek treatment from a psychiatrist out of fear of having the diagnosis on one’s charge.

Dr. El-Diwany added, “That’s really a myth, and the brain, the mind has its own entity, and the body has its own entity and they both interact with each other. So having a mental issue shouldn’t be a taboo or, having a mental health need should not be a taboo, it should be easy access to.”

The previously mentioned Rainier senior talked about how the stigma affects her own willingness to get help: “It’s bad and annoying just because this stigma has honestly made my symptoms worse. Even if no one’s ever personally like insulted me or said that they believe certain stereotypes, I still believe them myself. I was in the hospital, and I’m like, ‘I’m crazy now, you know like, ‘I’m in the looney bin’ like I mean like, ‘I’m just insane now’ and it was like, I was scared to let people know I was hospitalized because I was scared they were going to think I’m crazy.”

She continued, “I didn’t want to start meds even though I needed them because I was like, ‘No, ’cause now everyone’s going to think that I’m crazy, they’re going to think that I am like this person that just hallucinates like, ‘straitjackets,’ like all that. So yeah, it’s definitely affected my self-esteem in the past, and it’s made it harder to seek out help from people other than like my mom and my therapist.”

Dr. El-Diwany said a way to help destigmatize mental health is to have those services inside regular clinics. Integrating mental health services shows that “health, mind, and body are very integral parts” and therefore normalizes mental health.

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Seham El-Diwany, a child pediatrician and director of the teen health center at Kaiser Permanente PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

“We can reach out to somebody within reach in our department rather than sending people out and that would be like a one-stop shop. People come, we identify the problem … at least they get their screening and know they need help from an expert in our clinic, and then, if further follow up is needed, that can be on a regular campus, not on a separate campus, or a separate clinic,” Dr. El-Diwany said. “That really destigmatized it and normalized it, and people see it as part of their regular care rather than something very separate.”

Ms. Pham said it’s sad to see there are some really underserved communities where those who need help don’t have access to services. “I think there’s this underlying belief that mental health is a personal or individual problem and not a societal one, and I think until we shift that, I think we’ll kind of stay stuck, you know, in the same ruts.”

She explained that the way to shift those perspectives is to become less fearful of mental health conditions and to destigmatize mental health: “One kind of like big misconceptions that I often see, is that whatever someone’s experiencing isn’t like quote-on-quote bad enough to get help. I see and hear that all the time. People seem to think there is some sort of a threshold that delineates when it’s time to get help and when, you know, and when it’s not. And usually their threshold of where they think the bar is is pretty high, when in fact they could be seeing somebody or receiving help.”

Ms. Pham added, “I think we need to look at it more globally instead of just only personal or individual level at this point, and so if we can just streamline and better utilize spending and also open up who is being served and how that is made accessible.”

According to statistics provided by the National Alliance of Mental Illness, “Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.”  In addition, they also reported, “Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.”

See below for more information from Dr. El-Diwany:  

Effects of mental health on the brain

A group of Kaiser Permanente staff who work in Santa Clara County explained that mental health is largely controlled by connections and chemicals in the brain. The two psychologists and four predoctoral psychology residents interviewed asked to remain anonymous due to company policy. They explained neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire its neurons to form a new connection. Those pathways become stronger the more they’re used, and the pathways that don’t get used often become weaker. Someone who might experience trauma learns how to respond fearfully, and what treatment can do is to help someone learn how to respond differently through new habits and behavior. This would restructure the neuron connections in the brain.

Early intervention is really important to ensure the brain is not developing in a “maladaptive” way. One of the psychologists used an analogy of a foundation of a house. If the foundation of the house isn’t leveled and strong, you’ll continue to have problems as you keep growing; with a weaker foundation, problems will get bigger. Regardless, they added that it’s “never too late to get help.”

Facing cultural differences straight on

Mental health issues are treated differently in different cultural contexts, and that can affect the quality of treatment plans. Sydney Tai is a clinician at Asian American Recovery Services (AARS), a program that aims to serve Eastside San Jose.

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Asian American Recovery Services specializes in providing multilingual and multicultural staff for people who struggle with substance abuse issues and mental health illnesses. PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

Ms. Tai clarified that although initially AARS was started to serve the Asian/Pacific Islanders population, due to their specific cultural differences, they now have expanded outside of that population. “I have a lot of clients that aren’t even able to emotionally and effectively communicate with their own parents because of translation, you know, there’s just so much is lost in translation,” she said.  

The unique aspect of AARS, in addition to the mental health and substance abuse

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Sydney Tai, a clinician at Asian American Recovery Services PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

services they provide, is the multilingual and multicultural staff. Ms. Tai said, “A lot of the clinicians work with their specific ethnic groups. Like one of our clinicians is Filipina, and she works specifically with female Filipinas, right. That is a way to be able to relate to your clients that you don’t find in a lot of the other county agencies, so I think that’s really important.”

She gave an example of how even if the clinician is not from the same background and experiences as the client, with a diverse staff, there might be another clinician who is. This results in a wide variety of perspectives to draw from, instead of just a one-way solution, “There [are] so many different experiences that [for] you as a staff, it’s always more along the lines of, ‘Let me gather as many tools as I can because I don’t know what might work. Let me have a whole bunch of different things to be able to try.’”

Ms. Tai also shared how her job influences her personal life: “When I see one of my clients — when I see one of them sitting and dealing with a feeling. So, you know, like literally, if they’re sitting on this couch and crying, and I get to sit with them and kind of share that space with them, and if they’re kind of reliving a trauma, I get to experience their courage and strength. And I get to sit with them while they’re experiencing that and then when, you know, it’s over, see that it didn’t kill them and have them realize like it didn’t kill them to like feel those feelings again. And that’s definitely one of those things that I get to stay like in awe of the resiliency of the human spirit. I get to experience that. So as much as I try to leave like that situation at work, I definitely get to carry the feeling with me.”

See below for more information from Ms. Tai:  

AARS reinforces the idea that personal connections with clients matter significantly. Here at Rainier, the Respect Lab attempts to build those important connections with the students, in a new and different way.

How Rainier is using Respect Lab to meet its unique needs


Rainier senior Kira Levermore-Rich PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

In kindergarten, Rainier student Kira Levermore-Rich was diagnosed with depression: “Yes, it was very early on when the doctors were able to tell I had some very severe mental health issues.”  Now a high school senior, Levermore-Rich is participating in Rainier’s Respect Lab in addition to attending therapy in response to a diagnosis of depression, ADHD, anxiety and autism.

Levermore-Rich sees the school therapist, a personal therapist and participates in both family and group therapy.

Levermore-Rich explained that many people don’t understand what depression is: “A lot of people see it as like, ‘Oh you’re sad all the time.’ It’s not that; it’s more of like you struggle to get up in the morning because you don’t see the point because we’re all going to die anyway so why do I need to do anything to make a difference?  Because in the long run there is no difference, essentially; it’s like cynicism, essentially, but dialed up to 11, I guess, at least in my experience.”

Levermore-Rich added, “Autism and ADHD technically aren’t mental health disorders, but they do factor into my personal experience of mental health issues of feeling like I’m not like other people, and how no one can understand kind of ‘blah blah blah’ and no one can understand me because my brain is like different than everybody else’s and that’s one of the large factors in that.”

When asked why they felt the Respect Labs are important on a personal level, Levermore-Rich said, “A lot of people don’t see mental health a lot, and a lot of people struggle with mental health, and not talking about it is a detriment to people with mental health issues and if we don’t talk about it, a lot of people will start — will feel alone like, ‘There’s no one else like this. There’s something inherently wrong with me ‘blah blah blah’ kind of thing. So that’s why it’s important to talk about these things, in my opinion.”

Respect Lab was designed to be an immersive environment of restorative and resiliency building in a school setting, where youth influencers directly work with the youth. While this is the first school year the Respect Lab has been fully implemented, this isn’t the first year the campus has heard of this curriculum. Lissa Thiele, a juvenile justice attorney, curriculum designer at the Respect Institute and teacher on Rainier’s campus, piloted the Lab as an Expeditions course, Rainier Respect Lab, in the school year of 2017-18. It now operates as an invite-only small group for those who are recommended by their mentors.


Lissa Thiele, a juvenile justice attorney, curriculum designer at the Respect Institute and a teacher on Rainier’s campus PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

Ms. Thiele enthusiastically recalls the first day and the prompt given to students: “If you were going to write a book about you right this second, what would it be about?  What might you title it?” She recognized how the students did not hesitate to dive deep.

Ms. Thiele added, “The Respect Lab provides like a-day-to-day practices versus like sort of this birds’ eye view of like, ‘Well eventually you’ll get here.’ So it’s like, ‘No, I need to know what I need to do today. How do I practice getting through today?’ And so the Respect Labs give an actual structure – a framework – to be able to just meet life on life’s terms.”


Summit Public Schools’ uses the 16 Habits of Success in an attempt to teach students about emotional and social skills. PHOTO CREDIT: Judy Ly

Summit Public Schools have been using the framework of the 16 Habits of Success to help students recognize and learn emotional and social skills. The three foundational habits are self-regulation, attachment and stress management for healthy development, which Ms. Thiele said are a “core” for school readiness.

“There [are] a few different reasons why Rainier has one,” Ms. Thiele said, “Mr. Avarca and Mr. Roe and the entire front office have recognized that we have a lot of students who are not — don’t have that healthy development level yet, and so they felt like ‘You know what? Like we say in our mission statement ‘every student,’ and so ‘every student’ includes a group of students who struggles with things like different mental health needs, or learning differences needs, or life coaching … So because this is through the mental health research part of this, and because Mr. Avarca and Mr. Roe allow for me to be able to take this here, they were the ones who made it possible for me to bring my Respect Lab through.”

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Courtney Macavinta, CEO and co-founder of the Respect Institute PHOTO CREDIT: Courtney Macavinta

Respect Labs came from the national nonprofit organization, the Respect Institute (Ri). In an interview with Courtney Macavinta, the CEO and co-founder of the organization, she said, “We develop tools and training to help youth build not only their self-respect but their capacity for creating change to make a world in which respect for all is the status quo.”  

The institute came to be when Ms. Macavinta wrote a book about respect for teen girls. Through the promotion of the book, she was able to hear about readers’ stories about how disrespect impacted them. This sparked the expansion in her personal curiosity of, “How could we create a world where everyone respects themselves and each other?” and “What would that look like?”

On their website, they offer a toolkit called Respect 360 that Ms. Macavinta describes as a “program in a box,” and it revolves around their Respect Basics. Through working with sociologists and social justice experts once the institute was formed, they defined the difference between self-esteem and self-respect.

Ms. Macavinta explained, “Where disrespect starts to happen is when our rights and our personhood, you know, isn’t valued equally to others, you know. We shouldn’t be above or below anyone else, and so a lot of like adults, right, when we’re growing up, and we all — you know, everyone comes from different cultures.  I come from like a very mixed culture, like my dad’s Mexican and Filipino, my mom’s Portuguese and white, we have a lot of different religions and different things going on. But one common thing that they both kind of believed growing up and then taught us was that, you know, like respect had to be earned.”

She added that based on the research conducted by the organization, that is not the correct application of respect. “Trust has to be earned, right. Trust is a thing that can go up and down in a relationship, you know, from one day to the next based on people’s behavior,” said Ms. Macavinta, “Respect means to look again at its root, like ‘re’ like rewind, and ‘spect’ like spectacles, like glasses, so it means to look again. So it’s really rooted in like nonjudgment, compassion, [and] equity.”

When asked what makes her so driven to have the Respect Lab, Ms. Thiele replied, “These kids, the alumni of Rainier, are the driving force behind me, and that’s my driving force behind then, all of their siblings and all of our community that comes through. It’s a family thing; this is a family affair. This is not just a – something that happens in a silo. These are people who want the best for each other, who are looking for trusted adults, who are looking to positively influence the, you know, California education system.”

How Rainier seeks to use the mentor system to meet student needs

Before entering high school, Rainier senior Kalista Brand had struggled with depression and anxiety throughout her middle school years when her aunt passed away a year before seventh grade. She shared that she held her aunt’s hand as she passed away.


Rainier senior Kalista Brand PHOTO CREDIT: Kalista Brand

Brand reminisced about the memories of her aunt, like being taught how to quilt and write cursive. “She was very much my rock in this world, and suddenly that rock was taken away from me and so I just sort of spiraled into this hopelessness of like, ‘I would never recover from this, I will never — I don’t even know why I’m here anymore, she’s not here, I have no one to lean on, what am I going to do with my life? How am I going to get over this?’ And it sort of just kept spiraling down and down until seventh grade when I attempted suicide, and my mom found me trying to slit my wrists, and then she took me to the doctor and she said, ‘Yes, you have depression [and] anxiety.’”

Despite not having a formal treatment plan because she’s still looking for the right counselor and still dealing with her dad’s disbelief in mental illness, Brand has developed coping strategies. Ranging from dancing to Disney music to learning, she said, “I’m very much a learner and a creative mind, I think, when it comes to helping stir myself away from relapses and anxiety and stuff like that.”

Another way she copes with her mental health illness is through the support of her mentor, Rainier history teacher Ricardo Quezada. “In regards of my depression, Quezada, again my biggest supporter, sort of sat me down and said, ‘Let’s just talk,’” said Brand. “It helped to know he was there and that both he and Ms. Hernandez, the teacher resident, was there for me — is there for me, and to make sure that I don’t drown in my mind, if that makes sense.”

While students have reported that the mentor system has been really helpful, they have also reported that there’s been inconsistency. The mentor system is where every student at a Summit school is assigned, in their freshman year, a mentor group and a mentor. Summit faculty, usually teachers, act as a guidance and emotional support system for mentees.

Flores mentioned that her previous mentor seemed to lack a depth of knowledge on mental health: “[In] freshman year, I had a different mentor, and I told them I have anxiety and she said, ‘About what,’ and that’s like one of the misconceptions about having anxiety is that people use the dictionary term of anxiety, like having test anxiety or having anxiety about meeting a new person. That’s anxiety people [have], like everyone has that anxiety doing something new, but when you have anxiety, the mental illness, it’s something that’s constant in your state of mind.”

Fortunately, in her sophomore year, Flores’s mentor group got a new mentor, Rainier English teacher Karren Windsor, and ever since she opened up to her mentor about her anxiety: “She was really supportive of it, and, yeah, I really appreciate her that she’s a patient person, and I really appreciate that she’s very patient with me because not a lot of people usually are with mental illness, so I really, really appreciate that.” 

When asked what can our community be doing to better assist the youth who have fallen under an upbringing of disrespect, Ms. Macavinta concluded, “I think the biggest thing is sort of, you know, we’ve been talking a lot about youth, but the biggest thing is to focus actually on the adults and make sure the adults in these environments have training in around all of these topics we talked about — so the adverse childhood experience study, trauma, how to build protective factors in youth and then those adults also need to know to use the same tools, which is what we do in our Respect Labs, to nurture their own selves, heal themselves because a lot of the times they’ve been through the same or worse you know.”  

Advice for supporting someone living with a mental health illness


Advice for someone experiencing symptoms or living with a mental health illness

Advice for someone experiencing symptoms or living with a mental health illness

Mentor groups build community at Summit Shasta

By Evelyn Archibald and Zachary Navarra

Staff Writers

Being a junior mentor, Hillary Odom has the unique opportunity to develop a closer connection with her students. Ms. Odom has used this connection to help her mentees in ways she never received from her high school teachers. She is currently helping one of her students look for cars; they are navigating together the different options available to young teens. This is something her school never helped her with, and she is glad to give the extra support to her mentee.

According to Adelaide Giornelli, a current freshman mentor and Dean of Students at Summit Shasta, “A mentor group is a randomly selected cross-section of the grade that meets together every day; the purpose is to give them one adult who they know they can go to.”  Mentor groups meet every day and stay together for all four years of high school. They spend time in and outside of school bonding through group activities, academics, and various other events.  A mentor is a randomly selected teacher who acts as the group leader through all four years of high school.


This poster advertises Hillary Odom’s junior mentor group, the Odominators. PHOTO CREDIT: Zachary Navarra

Ms. Odom said the mentor system “builds a sense of a belonging and pride.” She explains that this is shown through “being able to share personal experiences as a group or more one-on-one.”  

The mentor groups at Shasta all are meant to essentially build and foster community within the groups, to make a safe space for the students in their school. Individual mentors and their mentees have personal goals for their groups in the years to come as well.

Shasta freshman Lyanna Cruzat spoke on the personal safety of mentor groups, saying, “Having a place where you feel safe, comfortable, just having a place where you don’t feel judged is something really important. Especially if that place is school.” Mentor groups allow students to have a safe space in school that they can go to.


Shasta sophomore Albert Chang-Yoo discusses his mentor group, the French Fridays. PHOTO CREDIT: Evelyn Archibald

“It feels very informal. You can basically talk to them about anything. It’s a place where you can be more relaxed, yeah. I think Shasta does a good job bringing in that sense of community with your group,” Shasta sophomore Albert Chang-Yoo said.  The students in mentor groups are given the opportunity to get to know each other and become more comfortable with the school and students in it.

However, not all students feel this way.  When asked how his experience has been through the past three years Shasta junior Ben Judice said, “It’s a place you go; there is no real unity beyond that it’s a place you are in with other people.” While the mentor system strives for greater community, it isn’t perfect and does not satisfy the needs of all students.

Rachel Baumgold, a new teacher to Shasta and freshman co-mentor, commented on the different dynamics of teacher and mentor, saying the two roles are “conflicting.” “On the one hand you’re a teacher who kind of has to demand respect, but on the other hand for a mentoring relationship to be productive you need to see each other as individual human beings,” she added. 


Shasta freshman Lyanna Cruzat says her mentor group makes her feel safe. PHOTO CREDIT: Evelyn Archibald

Ms. Baumgold said, “My goal would be to build relationships with students where both me and the student see each other as the individuals we are, beyond the roles that we carry in school.”

In comparison, more established teachers like freshman mentor Ms. Giornelli hope to “force students to connect with each other.” This is seen through mixing up friends groups and intentionally seating kids with students they don’t normally talk to. Another way of doing this has been through a group activity known as Circle. Ms. Giornelli believes this has been very helpful to the bonding and emotional connectedness of her mentees.

Summit Public Schools has used Circle as a very intentional structure that allows students to share their emotions and values in a way that fosters community. It attempts to teach students how to build authentic connections and resonate with people. This weekly event helps foster community within each mentor group.


Members of the Morris-Baumgold freshman mentor group Lyanna Cruzat, Alyshni Ocampo and Mary Heishan attend the Shasta school rally. PHOTO CREDIT: Milagros Morris

However, it is “difficult to put into practice,” Ms. Baumgold said. “I think, in actual practice with teenagers, it takes a lot of work for the Circles to become productive in the way they’re supposed to be productive.”

Chang-Yoo said, “The Circles, well it kinda helps, but sometimes it feels like you’re being forced to bond.” The goal of Circle, at its core, is to bring students together. A mentor’s goal is to try to get their mentees to break out of their comfort zone and build relationships with students they might not normally talk to.

Circle isn’t the only way students come together and form community. Students form community through school field trips, holding potlucks, creating mentor T-shirts and out-of-school activities.

Mentors such as Ms. Giornelli, Ms. Odom and Ms. Baumgold all work toward strengthening their bond with students along with the students’ bond with each other. Summit Shasta works toward building a strong community through group activities and mentor guidance in the mentor group system.


Mosaic-style art is displayed in Ms. Odom’s junior mentor room. PHOTO CREDIT: Zachary Navarra

Featured image (at the top of this post): Hillary Odom’s junior mentor group attends the annual school camping trip. PHOTO CREDIT: Hillary Odom






Students and teachers share how they have bonded with their mentor group

By Lilith Flowers and Kaitlyn Kelley  

Staff Writers 

“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.”


Tahoma junior Mikala Zavala

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.”


Tahoma Special Ed teacher and mentor Audrey Hart

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. 


Tahoma math teacher and mentor Thao Nguyen

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. 

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Ms. Hart’s mentor wall with pictures of all her mentees

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.”


Tahoma physics teacher and mentor Elizabeth Rodriguez

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.”


Tahoma history teacher and mentor Eileen Kim

“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.

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Tahoma freshman Arnold Pravong

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.

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Ms. Kim’s “college wall”

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.”


Mentor groups define our community

By Marcelo Espinoza, Raul Martinez, Nicholas Reed and Armando Sanchez

Staff Writers

We wanted to know more about how our school develops community, so we turned to something exclusive to Summit Preparatory Charter High School and its Summit Public Schools affiliates: the mentor group program.  The program has been revered for building close bonds between students and their teachers by assigning each teacher a group of students, called mentees, which stay the same for all four years of high school. Many form close bonds with the people in their mentor group and learn to think of it as almost a second family.

During an interview with one of the mentors, we asked questions about the populace within the school and how they maintain the tight-knit community they are known for. While discussing, eleventh grade mentor David Tellez shared some methods of keeping students in line, one of them being simply forcing a student to participate by coaxing them with chess boards.

Here’s a look at what mentor groups look like for each grade level:

Freshman Class

Interviewer: Summit Prep sophomore Nick Reed

Sources: Ninth grade mentor John Pickersgill and Summit Prep freshman Xander Martens


Freshman mentor John Pickersgill

In the freshman interview, we had Nick Reed talk to John Pickersgill, a ninth grade mentor and tenth grade English teacher. Throughout Mr. Pickersgill’s time at school, you can see him assisting people who need help with their projects during and after class.


For the whole interview, click here.

Sophomore Class

Interviewer: Summit Prep sophomore Marcelo Espinoza

Sources: Tenth grade mentor Chiara Colicino and Summit Prep sophomore Deny Lucha


Sophomore mentor Chiara Colicino

In the sophomore interview, we spoke to Ms. Colicino, a tenth grade mentor, and Deny Lucha, a student in her mentor group, about the mentor group program and how it affects the school’s community.

“I think in a big school students don’t feel that much of a community, and there’s a lot of sub communities within them. At Summit, there’s a large community that hopefully all students can identify,” Ms. Colicino said.

“The relationships we build as partners and mentees is really nice,” Lucha said.

For the whole interview, click here.

Junior Class

Interviewer: Summit Prep sophomore Armando Sanchez

Source: Eleventh grade mentor David Tellez, Summit Prep juniors Rob Wilds and Jordan Sanchez


Junior mentor David Tellez

In the junior interview, we had David Tellez representing the mentor and Jordan Sanchez and Rob Wilds representing the mentees. 

Mr. Tellez said, “This past year, even though we haven’t talked in awhile, it’s like a friend group you can pick up where you left off … ‘more like a family.” 

Wilds said, “Since freshman year, my conversations with the mentor groups have gotten more natural.” This shows that Wilds is used to talking in his mentor group and through the years he eventually became comfortable in his mentor group.

Sanchez said, ”I can trust my mentor group with everything.” 

For the whole interview, click here.

Senior Class

Interviewer: Summit Prep sophomore Raul Martinez

Source: Twelfth grade mentor Mary Beth Thompson 


Senior mentor Mary Beth Thompson

While getting the seniors’ perspective on the mentor group program, we were limited to the mentor’s angle on how she has impacted the community.

Mary Beth Thompson is a freshman history teacher as well as a senior mentor. In the interview, Ms. Thompson stated that she “hope(s) my mentees know they have someone they can come and talk to.” This shows that she cares about her mentees a lot, even though they have been together a short time.

For the whole interview, click here.


Want more podcasts?

Reed and Sanchez have a podcast they upload to YouTube regularly. You can find the last podcast they uploaded to this website here. You can listen to the rest of their podcasts on their channel.


Celebration of Learning comes to Summit Prep

Summit Prep’s official podcast is live


Summit Prep goes camping

By Jon Garvin and Kai Lock 

Multimedia Editors

On Aug. 28 and Aug. 29, the Summit Prep faculty and students left campus for their annual camping trip. The purpose of this camping trip is to build relationships between students, as well as continuing to strengthen their relationship with their mentor and other teachers.

During this annual camping trip students play fun community builder games, at times involving just their mentor group and at other times competing against all of the other mentor groups (also known as the Mentor Olympics) for points.

The annual camping trip also offers breakout sessions, which include activities such as making friendship bracelets, hosting a dance party, playing in a soccer tournament and much more. To be able to participate in more than one activity, there are two breakout sessions, each one lasting about an hour.

Two Summit Prep camping trip traditions are the talent show and the mentor group chant. Each mentor group gets time to create a mentor group flag, chant and mascot. They then present these at the end of the camping trip and teachers decide which mentor group has the best chant. Wrapping up the camping trip means naming the mentor group who accumulated the most points the winner.

Below are some pictures from the camping trip:

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Sophomores practice their mentor group chant (left to right: Evelyn Balladares, Yesenia Lopez, Casper Lyback and Jenny Soria).


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Senior Annabeth Sims enjoys her time at the nail painting breakout session.


Summit Prep freshman Xavier Ramirez has fun freestyle rapping at the annual camping trip talent show.


Summit Prep Dean of Culture Michael Green and Summit Prep Executive Director Caitlin Reilly dress up in dinosaur costumes and have fun telling puns onstage.

Here are some additional photos taken at the Summit camping trip:

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Mentor groups build community

By Mako Oshiro

Staff Writer

A mentor group is one important part of Summit Public Schools. A mentor group is a group of students who stick together all four years of high school; within the mentor group, the goal is to try to build community.

Kristy Chun, a freshman mentor and science teacher, said that her goal in building community in a mentor group is “to have each other’s backs and to get to know each other better.”

Ms. Chun said that the way she makes the mentor group achieve community goals is to “make sure that everyone is looking out for each other and being supportive to one another.”

One thing that she did was “organize a mentor group activity that not only focused on the objective of getting to know everyone but also is fun.”

Ms. Chun said that the way she comes up with activities is by “listening to everyone’s ideas of what they are interested in and have them come up with some suggestions.” Then, she  said that she “finds ways around the ideas and suggestions to plan an activity.”

When trying to build community outside of the mentor group, she said, “We could do a volunteer day where we help out at a animal shelter or a cause that the mentees support.”

This shows that Ms. Chun is trying to have the mentor group not only build community only in the mentor group but also in the outside world. Therefore, Ms. Chun is building community in two ways.

Everest freshman Nico Levy said that this mentor group affected him because it gave him “a place to relax after a long day of school.”

Levy noted that coming to the mentor group made him feel “excited and warm because it was a place to build community.”

He said that the contribution he brings to the mentor group is humor, adding that he feels good about that contribution because he believes that it is “an important part of everyday life.”

When it comes to how Levy felt about the mentor group, he said, “It made him feel supported because it felt like he had a second family that would always support him.”

Everest freshman Ben Figone said the mentor group “helped him build connections with people.”

He said that a positive contribution he brought to the mentor group was “a willingness to help other students,” adding that makes him “feel happy because he could help his mentees and build connections with them.”

Finally, Figone said that being in this mentor group made him feel happy because “it was a place that had supportive people and was a very friendly environment.”

Featured image (at the top of this post): Kristy Chun and her mentees display their mentor group symbol, Pikachu, at the 2016 start of school camping trip. PHOTO CREDIT: Kristy Chun