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Forsyth Academy Student Mentors Are Equal Parts Helpers and Learners

Teachers who need an extra couple hands of help at Forsyth Academy have come to rely on the valuable members of the Student Mentors program. The elective class, made up of seventh and eighth grade students, is sent out for an hour each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to assist with a variety of tasks.
 
Mentors often help younger students with reading and math, while assisting teachers with small group activities, grading papers, lesson prep, class organization, and more.
 
Class organizer, Tlynn Borders, a seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher, said the first semester she offered the class she didn’t get enough response from teachers. After a few weeks, word spread about how helpful the students could be, and now she doesn’t have enough students to fulfill all the requests.
 
“This has become a very popular class, so I’ve had to put a cap on the numbers,” Borders said of the 26 students currently in the program. “Having the students ask to go back to the same class and ask for more responsibility is the most rewarding for me.”
 
Accountability is a large part of the program. Teachers fill out a form for the mentors each day they’re in class. Students are graded on their performance, attentiveness to duties, and listening skills.
 
“I’ve seen a lot of growth in some of my students,” Borders said. “They’re excited about the accountability form, they’re excited they get to showcase what they know, especially when it comes to certain subjects. They can say things a lot easier student-to-student than teacher-to-student.”
 
Borders’ job is akin to an air traffic controller. She points the students in the proper direction, then checks in with them throughout their time in the class to make sure all is well.
 
“Being in contact with all 26 teachers and having the science down to who goes where they’re supposed to be and who is doing what they’re supposed to be doing; it can be challenging. I can always go down the hall and check on them. I need that open communication with the teachers, so I learn how the students are doing.”
 
Mentoring has been shown to give shy students a way to showcase their talents. They get the opportunity to develop communication skills with younger students who they may feel more comfortable around.
 
“Someone older helping someone younger, they can learn from each other,” Borders said. “Once they get the accountability form and they see that the teacher is pleased with the help they’ve done in the class, I think it boosts their confidence a little bit too. I have seen a lot of my students come out of their shell with this program.”
 
While helping younger kids stay quiet during class or running some papers down to the office may seem like everyday tasks for the mentors, it’s helping prepare them for real-world interactions, Borders said.
 
“I always tell the students this class can help you in school, but it can really help you in life,” Borders said. “Even though we’re still on the middle school level, it helps them in their everyday life. It helps them communicate with their parents, and in society. It helps build those interpersonal skills and prepares them for life.”
 
Forsyth Academy is part of National Heritage Academies (NHA), a charter school management company in Grand Rapids, Mich. with 98 tuition-free, public charter schools across nine states, serving more than 60,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.