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CVU upperclassmen reach out to younger students

Dec. 2, 2010

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

For freshmen, the confusing maze of halls filled with unfamiliar faces at Champlain Valley Union High School can be a bit overwhelming at first.

Ninety-four upperclassmen at Champlain Valley Union High School volunteer to mentor freshmen this year. (Courtesy photo)

CVU is working to alleviate some of the stress of starting high school with an expanded mentoring program that matches freshmen and transfer students with an older student.

“This program is great!” freshman Amanda Gellis wrote in response to an e-mail from the Observer. “When you’re a freshman, the older kids can be intimidating, so knowing one of the upperclassmen is really helpful.”

This year, every new CVU student has had someone to turn to when they have questions. The Chill Upperclassmen Boosting Student Success program, or CUBSS, started last year as part of a student’s graduation challenge. It now has 94 volunteer mentors, mostly juniors and seniors.

“CVU is a bigger school and there’s lots of benefits to a bigger school, but one of the drawbacks is kids can feel like they’re lost,” said Margo Austin, Connecting Youth peer prevention educator at CVU, who helps runs the program. “This provides them with a student who’s been through freshman year and knows more about the student environment.”

Each older student, called a CUB, is matched with three or four freshmen, and meets with them approximately once a week.

“It’s just another helpful, supportive, friendly person in the building who is deliberately connecting with them,” Austin said.

Freshman Caelyn Kohlasch said her mentor checked in with her frequently after she broke her arm, and helped wrap her cast with padding before soccer games.

“It gives you someone to talk to or to ask questions in the school in case you need help,” Kohlasch wrote in response to an e-mail. “My CUB has been a really positive influence in my first year of high school, and I think this program has been really helpful.”

Former CVU senior Callen Suozzi-Rearic organized the program last year as her grad challenge, and Austin said the school decided to stick with it. All seniors at CVU need to complete a yearlong independent learning project to graduate.

“Our thinking is everyone can benefit from a mentoring relationship and so that just made sense to us,” she said.

This year, senior Shelby Knudson is helping orchestrate the program for her graduation challenge.

“I’m one of those people who love working with others, so I found this to be the perfect program,” Knudson wrote in an e-mail to the Observer. “I can remember my freshman year, and looking back, I believe it would’ve helped a lot to have an upperclassman to get advice from.”

Knudson said she has gotten to know a lot of new people through the program, and thinks it is helpful for the younger students.

“As a CUB, I have received valuable knowledge that cannot be taught in a classroom,” she wrote. “There are many laughs and memories in the program, and I cannot wait to see where the program goes in the next few years.”

Elementary school students benefit

CUBSS is not CVU’s only mentoring program. For more than two decades, the school has matched high school students with elementary school students in the community.

This semester, more than 50 students have enrolled in the buddy program, meeting with a student from kindergarten through fourth grade twice a week. It’s a volunteer program, but students can also earn an elective credit.

MaryAnne Gatos, who heads the program, said it provides role models for the younger students.

“Individual one-on-one attention for a younger child can often boost their sense of self-worth and their sense of self-esteem,” she said. “It’s amazing how powerful it is …. We do hear from host teachers that it is making a difference.”

Gatos said it also provides a chance for the older student to feel like he or she is helping someone.

“It’s a wonderful way for them to be the giver,” she said. “So much of school is student-centered. For a lot of them, it is a place to care about somebody else.”

CVU senior Ben Drinkwine has been involved in the program during his junior and senior years.

“I had extra free time during my schooldays and I wanted to make a difference in my local community,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Observer. “It is fun, easy and can make a difference in a younger student’s school day.”

Students can join the buddy program next semester, with sign-ups at the end of January.