Tag Archives: mentor

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:

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


Ms. Buller loves Everest, her students and teaching

By Kimberly Campos

Staff Writer

Alana Buller teaches Social Studies at Everest Public High School. Ms. Buller cares about her students, wants to keep them on track and enjoys working with them. This year, she has enjoyed working at Everest.

  1. What brought you to Everest? “I was looking for a job, and I met with the faculty at Everest and thought the school was welcoming,” Ms. Buller said.


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Everest history teacher Alana Buller

2. What is your favorite thing about being a mentor? Why is that your favorite thing?  

Ms. Buller’s favorite thing about being a mentor is spending time with her mentees and getting to know them. That is her favorite thing because all of her mentees are different and they are motivated, which makes make her excited and inspired for the future.


3. What does it feel like having two different classes? Do you think it is going to be the same throughout the year? 

“At the moment so far, having two different classes is not stressing. I think throughout the year it’s going to become easier because I am going to know my students more and we will fall into a routine, so it will be easier to maintain the classes,” Ms. Buller said.

4. Did you want to be a teacher since you were a kid? Why or why not?

Ms. Buller wanted to be a teacher since she was a kid. She enjoys working with students, and her parents are her biggest influence.

5. What drew you to being a Social Studies teacher? 

Even a kid she knew she wanted to be a teacher, but she did not know exactly what she wanted to teach yet. Both of her parents are teachers, so she learned from them. Ms. Buller enjoys teaching Social Studies because she likes learning about people from the past. 

6. Was Social Studies your favorite subject in school? Why or why not?

“It was my favorite subject because I liked learning about people from the past and about what is going on in the world. In high school I also really enjoyed AP United States History.”

7. Did you have any other subjects that you liked in school? Why did you like     those subjects? 

I liked English because I liked to read. I also like Spanish and Italian and I like learning different languages for foreign countries,” Ms. Buller said.

8. So far have you liked working at Everest? What is your favorite thing about working at Everest?

“So far I have enjoyed working at Everest because the faculty and students are welcoming, and I love working with my students,” Ms. Buller said. “I like the fact that it’s a small school because everyone knows each other there and there is a strong sense of community.”

9. What are your goals for your mentor group?

“My goal is to get my mentees into a four-year college and to be there to help them,” Ms. Buller said.

10. What are your goals for getting there, and how long do you think it will take to reach them?

One strategy Ms. Buller has for getting her mentees is college is communicating with her students and keeping them on track with their classes. Other steps Ms. Buller is taking include scheduling meetings with her mentees’ parents and talking about college with them. She also makes sure they reach out to their teachers when students are not on track in their classes. Ms. Buller also wants to be available to her students when they need help.