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SciMaTech adopts mentorship program

James Davis

This school year marks the pilot year for the National Academy Foundation (NAF) academy mentor program. Organized by NAF academy director Regina McClure and student leaders of each academy, the mentor program has expanded to include over 70 students and is met with overall enthusiasm. 

The program pairs underclassmen seeking assistance with upperclassmen who are more familiar with course objectives and navigating the academies. It was implemented to create an academy community and give students a resource outside of teachers and staff to improve the overall environment and retention of the academies.

Last year the three SciMaTech academies, Engineering, Biomedical Science and Information Technology (IT), became NAF academies, meaning they now fall under a national framework for curriculum and standards. McClure said the mentoring program was proposed as a solution “based on a lot of student feedback from last year on how can we help build community, how we can make sure students feel supported, and how we can keep retention in the academies.” She also noted that students were interested in the idea of more inter-grade connections, and the mentoring program seemed to meet all of these goals. 

Many of the student organizers had been inspired by both the short-lived mentorship program run through the Gender Equality in Stem (GES) club, and the tutoring program from last year. Unlike the tutoring programs, the mentorship program has a more flexible schedule and allows for more one-on-one learning. “I think when I was an underclassman I definitely would have liked it,” Avery Reimers, the mentor organizer for Biomed, said. Similarly, engineering academy president Samantha Gordon said, “It definitely would’ve been super helpful. Luckily I had a bunch of mentors, I knew some older engineering students through GES.” 

Gordon has two mentees; she says that they can ask her anything, regardless of the subject or project. 

“It’s not just facilitating skill development, but it holds them accountable for getting the homework done on time,” Engineering teacher Zachary Meyers added. Right now, the mentoring program is limited to the three STEM academies, with each academy having between 10 and 20 pairs of students. 

Meyers highlighted the unique importance of the mentoring program for academies, “I don’t know if I would recommend this as a whole school initiative because we are so skill based and oriented vertically in Engineering and Biomed and the other NAF academies,” he said. 

Regardless, throughout the next couple of years, McClure plans to work with other academy directors to see the mentoring program expand into all 10 of the Jackson-Reed academies, which make up about half the school. 

Although most have agreed the program has been an overall success, there are flaws to be addressed as it expands, specifically a lack of engagement. Student leaders, appointed to the mentor-organizing board, originally went class-to-class sharing the goals of the mentor program and how to join, and sent emails through the SciMaTech newsletter. Despite this, overall visibility of the program has been low and this likely reduces the number of participants. “I would recommend doing it again but with more advertisements… The only flaw right now is sometimes we have too little mentors,”, Meyers added. They accept all academy students as mentors, Reimers said, it’s just matching the best mentor and mentee. 

Meyers also added that because the program is relatively unstructured, students were not getting all they could out of the program. Mentors can assist with classwork, projects, skill building, or go to the teacher to check in about what is being taught that day in class. 

Nevertheless, this concern was echoed by several mentors in the program who felt they didn’t know what to do with their mentees, or whose mentees had never reached out at all. McClure and the student organizers are currently brainstorming ways to add structure or lesson plans, however she says. “They might not need the help, but at least [the mentors] should be reaching out at least once a week.” That’s also how mentors can track their community service hours, McClure added. 

Organizers also emphasized the benefit for mentors. Being either a mentor or an academy tutor is now a requirement to graduate from the NAF academies with honors. Independent from the material benefits, mentors have also expressed how they feel more connected with their academies and have enjoyed getting to know more underclassmen. The student leads are working hard to make sure everyone’s needs are met, and coming up with fun ways to make it more than just learning, such as through mixers. “This is our first year doing it, we’re learning a lot and growing a lot through it,” McClure said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s been largely positive in terms of giving students help if they need it.”

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Greta Bradley-Meal, Junior Editor
Jessica McCallum, Junior Editor
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