Helping hands: Mentorship programs at Woodholme, Patapsco benefit students

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From left: Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts Grade 11 students Will Richardson, Katelynn Baron and Akil Atkins serve as mentors for middle school students at Gen. John Stricker Middle School. 

DUNDALK — When Akil Atkins arrived for his first day of ninth grade at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, he wasn’t just new to the building.

After attending classes in Baltimore prior to high school, he was new to Baltimore County Public Schools.

Among his challenges: Making new friends, locating classrooms in a sprawling building, discovering extracurricular activities, and adjusting to challenging courses.

Now a junior, Atkins can laugh about his first few Grade 9 days at Patapsco. He is involved in student government and the National Honor Society. He found plenty of friends. He knows what to expect. Such are the comforts and knowledge gained through experience.

Atkins is eager to share his story with those who will come after him. That’s why Atkins signed up for the Patapsco High mentorship program.

Once every three weeks, Atkins and more than a dozen of his Patapsco High classmates visit a group of Gen. John Stricker Middle students. The mentors prepare the future Patapsco High students for their futures, complete team-building activities, they share experiences and they listen, said Michael Ches, Patapsco’s mentor coordinator.

The Grade 11 Patapsco students are working with Grade 8 Gen. John Stricker students. This way, the middle school students will see friendly faces when they begin high school next year, easing in the transition.

“When you are starting high school, it can be tough,” Atkins said. “When we are going there and working with the middle school students, it makes you feel good. I wish I would have gotten that help, and we’re helping put them at ease.”

This mentorship project is one of many throughout Team BCPS. In this case, students are helping students. But if you follow enough BCPS employees on social media, you quickly discover mentorship is happening in a variety of different ways.

From Randallstown Elementary:

From Church Lane Elementary:

From Milford Mill Academy:

Baltimore County Public Schools mentor facilitator Marcus Wimberly said he is inspired by how many selfless members of Team BCPS donate their time to help students. Wimberly, in his second year in this new position, can quickly rattle off the names of teachers, administrators, college organizations and members of the business community that are serving as mentors throughout the county.

“You’re seeing great examples throughout the county,” he said. “Students are benefitting. There’s no doubt. But when you talk to mentors, you realize they are getting just as much out of it. They feel like they are making a difference.”

In honor of National Mentoring Month and Team BCPS Day, we visited with student mentors at Patapsco High and staff mentors at Woodholme Elementary. The programs are different but the goal is the same: To improve the lives of students. All that is required is a positive attitude, a willingness to listen and time.

Reading for lunch

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Woodholme Elementary Grade 2 teacher Anne Jones is an eager participant in the school’s mentorship program.

One by one, Woodholme Elementary staff members arrived at the school’s stage with a student they were very familiar with.

More than 40 Woodholme Elementary staff members are participating in the school’s mentorship program. Staff members choose to mentor a student. It is not a requirement. Some mentor two. Academic goals are discussed, but many of the conversations are simple and trust-building.

This time around, mentors and mentees met at a winter party during lunch breaks organized by Woodholme school counselor and mentorship coordinator Julie Kramer. Students picked a book they could take home, updated mentors on how they were doing academically, and set goals for the upcoming grading period.

“It is nice for the students to have someone other than their teacher that they can turn to for support and just to talk about their day,” said Woodholme Elementary Grade 2 teacher Jenna McRae, who mentors two students.

Sometimes, the students are paired with a mentor due to a unique connection: Nicole Adams was the Grade 1 teacher for Jose when both were at Winfield Elementary.

Then Jose moved into the Woodholme district. Adams transferred to Woodholme. And now they are reunited at a different school. Adams recognized him one day, noted how much taller he was since she last saw him. And so began a mentoring partnership.

If there aren’t instant familiarities, the students and staff quickly bond over what they do have in common. Grade 2 teacher Anne Jones and her mentee Marcel share a last name.

“We bonded right away,” Anne Jones said. “He’s a Jones. I’m a Jones.”

They regularly touch base even though Jones has not served as Marcel’s teacher. She’s eager to make sure he’s meeting his goals. They have weekly visits.

“You make a difference as a teacher,” Anne Jones said, “but you don’t always get to know the students as well as you do through mentorships.”

Preparing for high school

When Patapsco High junior Will Richardson learned his school would be starting a mentorship program with middle school students, he was eager to take part.

His personality was a perfect fit.

“I just like to make people smile,” he said. “I know that sounds cheesy, but I just like it when people laugh and smile, so that’s what I try to do.”

When Richardson mentors Gen. John Stricker Middle students, he feels right at home. He attended Gen. John Stricker, which meant he could say hello to some of his former teachers.

Richardson is part of Patapsco’s AVID program. All of the Patapsco mentors are AVID students. This way, the middle school students can hear what it’s like to be part of a rigorous program that prepares students for college.

“We have to show them that you aren’t going to have your hand held throughout life,” Richardson said. “It’s about you and what you can accomplish.”

The middle school students also get to hear about extracurricular activities. For example, Katelynn Baron is a cheerleader and works on the school’s yearbook. A former Gen. John Stricker student, Baron said she has enjoyed working with students and preparing them for high school.

“Instead of walking in and not knowing what is possible here, it’s good to have that in the back of their heads,” she said. “When they reach high school, they will know what they want to accomplish. There will be no wait.”

Atkins, the BCPS newcomer, is involved in a club that spreads kindness through his school that is advised by former National Teacher of the Year Sean McComb.

Atkins, a well-spoken student with a positive mindset, is hopeful he can make high school life as easy as possible for the Gen. John Stricker Middle students. After all, that’s one of the ways a mentor can make a difference.

“When I started [at Patapsco], it took me about a month to really get comfortable,” Atkins said. “I want to help the middle school students so they are ready.”

Interested in becoming a mentor or learning more about the Baltimore County Public Schools mentorship program? Contact coordinator Marcus Wimberly at mwimberly@bcps.org.

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