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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 7, May/June 2005

Mentorship at Burnaby North Secondary

by Hersimer Johl

It all began four years ago with a simple discussion... What could be done to help Grade 8s make the transition into high-school life? In creating the program, we applied the most current research to the needs of our student population in the most practical and efficient way possible. The program’s positive effects are confirmed by the decrease in the number and severity of incidents in our school. The results are echoed in the data collected by our local RCMP community policing office.

The program is based on current research on fit, bullying, resiliency, reinforcing positive behaviour, functional assessment, and creating positive school culture. We have used the expertise of researchers from the faculty of Education at UBC.

Since we began, 183 senior students have been trained to help support Grade 8 students. Forty students had further training as peacemakers. They can step into a peer conflict situation and help mediate a resolution. We have helped 1,200 Grade 8 students make a better transition into high school life. Mentors are matched according to their strengths and interests with four to five Grade 8 students for the year. The year begins in August when the assigned Grade 8 students get a call from their mentor. Mentors meet their charges on the first day of school and help them get through that day. Grade 8s are told to look for the distinctive grey shirts if they need questions answered or help in general, especially during the first few weeks of the year.

In September, the Grade 8s have gone on a two-day retreat, during which the topic of bullying is presented by our liaison officer. A respect lesson, created by our visual and performing arts teachers, is given, and students participate in co-operative games. Grade 8s learn about library resources with our teacher-librarian, and they learn to use our agenda planner with two of our social studies teachers. The Esteem Team gives them a positive message about life.

Throughout the year, Grade 8s receive formal lessons on bullying, organizational skills, study habits, and social responsibility by their respective mentors. Further, they have time to catch up on homework with the help of their mentors.

Some of the many guest speakers we have brought in are the Esteem Team, the Vancouver Giants, Lesra Martin of Hurricane Carter fame, on literacy, Katy Hutchison, on restorative justice and bullying, Terry Fagen on the ramifications of drug use, and Lions in the Den. We hope to end this year with a talk by Rick Hansen.

Having established this program at Burnaby North Secondary School, we are constantly reviewing and changing the program to better suit the needs of our students. We are looking to support Grades 9–12 students who are new to the school, the city, and the country.

Looking ahead, we will be expanding the program into all of our feeder schools next year so that this network of support reaches students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Those who were mentored will become the mentors.

The program not only supports students heading into high school, but also shows those students that they have what it takes to become leaders. When students take ownership of a program such as this and truly make it their own, it becomes much more powerful. We are helping them build their self-esteem and self-efficacy. They build a better, more positive school climate and culture. They are creating a network of support. The prevailing message throughout the school becomes one about caring. All human beings want to know that they are cared for and that they matter! This program does that.

If your school wants to create a similar program, or if you need a resource to use in your school, please contact me. I have created a "how to" manual that I will share with you. I have taken from many sources to create this program. I am very proud of this school, the staff, and, above all. the students, who have made this program their own.

Hersimer Johl teaches at Burnaby North Secondary School, Burnaby.

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