The shrill ring of a bell echoes through the halls and hundreds of students rejoice – it’s lunchtime. Filing into the cafeteria and finding a table filled with their friends to sit and eat with is a great reprieve from the classes they have been in all morning. However at Plaza Elementary School, some students would prefer to be back in the classroom.
For the 4th and 5th grade students involved in the mentoring program at Plaza, lunchtime is when they meet for mentoring. The students will tell you – they wouldn’t miss it for the world! In fact, students often request to stay after lunch and spend their recess inside continuing the mentoring session.
One teacher saw how much students in the mentoring program were benefiting and realized the untapped potential of their mentoring program!
Juliana Rashwan, a mentor and special education teacher, believed there was a way to empower students of all abilities through mentoring. Working alongside her principal, program coordinator and fellow mentors, she infused peer mentoring into their sessions to help cultivate an inclusive culture where students of different classes and different abilities were able to interact each week developing social skills and friendships.
“Within the mentoring program, a lot of our students don’t have the abilities or opportunities to engage with other children [outside their class]. They see them at recess or lunch, but they stick to the same group of friends,” says Rashwan. “So this gives all the students, in every single class, the opportunity to engage, socialize, ask them how their weekend went, and build on the social skills that they need in order to really be successful students.”
A Peer Mentoring Model for Students of All Abilities
At times, students with different abilities can struggle to build friendships in school. Without crucial relationships with other students and adults, they may feel different or isolated. At Plaza Elementary School, the peer mentoring model consists of a small group of 3-4 students from general education and self-contained classes. Each group has a teacher who acts as a mentor and facilitates the group, creating structures for the students to engage in peer mentoring during each session.
“As a teacher for students with special needs, it is always one of my goals to have my students be and feel included, and the mentoring program at Plaza [Elementary School] really helps to make that happen,” says Rina Hartigan, who co-facilitates a mentoring group with Rashwan. “Within the program, we are teaching students to overcome the social obstacles that they face within the walls of their classrooms.”
Friendships Outside the Classroom
The mentoring program is currently in its second year of implementing this model and has seen great success!
“The great part about it is that it’s not just happening inside our mentor groups anymore,” says Hartigan. “Now we see those same kids outside on the playground talking with each other.”
After just one year piloting this model, a 5th grade student said, “I’m so glad I made a new friend. He may be in the self-contained class but I never knew how cool he was. We never would have met if it weren’t for this program. I’m gonna make sure we stay friends at the Middle School, even if he isn’t in my class.”
Plaza Elementary School is part of the Baldwin Union Free School District where they have thriving mentoring programs in 7 schools throughout the district serving over 400 students. The program at Baldwin has grown over 20 years beginning with a mentoring program built into one school with help from MENTOR New York.
About MENTOR New York
MENTOR NY fuels quality mentoring relationships that bring a caring adult together with children in need through safe, effective mentoring programs throughout New York State.