Saturday Morning Magic
The Peer Mentors at Washington College are a select group of sophomores, juniors and seniors who have undergone a highly competitive vetting process. In fact, fewer than 20 percent of students who apply for a slot actually get one. Their one job used to be to mentor first-year students, to help them adjust to college life. Two years ago, they added another dimension: they began mentoring the children of the local Horizons program, as well.
Horizons is a six-week summer learning program aimed at combating the academic loss that children from low-income families experience during summer break. The Saturday mornings at Washington College (one per semester), give these children a chance to reconnect with their Horizons friends and with “Miss Connie,” aka Connie Schroth, the program’s academic director. “It keeps Horizons in their lives during the school year,” Schroth says of the College play days, which include hands-on academics and physical activities capped off with lunch in the campus dining hall. “So many things in their lives aren’t consistent. This keeps Horizons part of what they know and think about.”
On the most recent Horizons Play Day, on the first Saturday in November, twenty-six Horizons children from grades 1 through 8, roughly a third of the children from the summer program, came to campus to be with the Peer Mentors. They played kick ball and other games in the Johnson Fitness Center, conducted a science experiment that involved making a “goo brick” out of water and corn starch, and took a class in international studies and cultural differences that required them to design a flag that represented their personal interests (pizza, pets and girls, among them).
“I wanted the Peer Mentors to stretch their mentoring ability with a different audience – an audience that doesn’t necessarily take college for granted,” says Sarah Feyerherm, interim vice president for student affairs, who worked with Schroth to develop the idea. “This is the kind of role modeling that can really have an impact: I want to go to college. I want to study science. It’s also an opportunity for our mentors to realize that college is not a privilege that everyone enjoys or envisions for themselves.”
The Peer Mentors design all the activities and give the children their undivided attention all the way through lunch. “Our main purpose as Peer Mentor is to work with our peers, the first-year students,” says Sarah Winters ’14. “It’s a whole different outlook with these little guys. It’s so fun to help them. They are so excited by the smallest things.”
Zach Stroh, a 12-year-old sixth-grader, took home a better idea of what going to college might be like. “College isn’t just about school,” he learned. “There are sports programs, the pool, the cafeteria. It’s fun!”