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How intraschool mentorships help develop the “whole” student

During April, SmartBlog on Education will shine a light on educating the whole child. In this blog post, we learn about the role mentoring plays in supporting students’ social, emotional and physical needs.

In my long career as an educator, I have participated in numerous collaborative projects with other teachers and their students. I have found that these collaborative, mentorship-type opportunities educate participants in a way that goes far beyond just academic success. As educators, it’s our role to work with each student to not only guide them down their intellectual path, but also to help them progress socially, emotionally and physically. One way to accomplish this is through in-school, cross-grade mentorships.

After joining the faculty of Léman Manhattan last year as the Science Department chair, I soon implemented the Little Einsteins program, a unique partnership between lower and upper school students. As an International Baccalaureate school, we strive to develop the “whole child” — students who are principled, open-minded, knowledgeable, caring, balanced and reflective critical-thinkers and communicators.

Little Einsteins is an ongoing long-term project that allows our students, across the two divisions, to work together in the study of a marvelous community resource, Bowling Green Park, the oldest park in New York City. When I read that the park was created in 1733 for “the recreation and delight of the inhabitants of this city,” it became apparent that Little Einsteins would be a fantastic way for our students to continue that tradition.

Working with our K-4 science specialist and his second-grade students, my ninth-grade life science students acted as Little Einstein Ambassadors and helped their younger schoolmates study every aspect of science in the park over the course of the school year. And while our students are absolutely learning about scientific concepts such as topography, temperature and algae and fungal growth in a fun and engaging way, the interaction is also helping the mentees and mentors in the following ways.

Potential benefits for mentees:

  • Better attitude about school and learning
  • Enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Improved collaborative skills
  • Stronger relationships with parents, teachers and peers
  • Improved interpersonal skills
  • Introduction to IB lab protocols

Potential benefits for mentors:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • Insight into childhood, adolescence and young adulthood
  • Increased patience and improved supervisory skills
  • Application of IB lab protocols on a large scale

The absolute joy of an academic mentorship program is that it demonstrates the unique bond formed by students. It’s all about kids teaching kids, and students learning from their peers as well as from faculty. This only enhances their comprehensive development as mentorships nurture curiosity, discovery and learning.

A whole-child approach to education emphasizes the importance of extracurricular activities, technology, ethics and global awareness to boost each child’s academic experience. If you’re interested in establishing an in-school, cross-grade mentorship program, first consider the following questions to ensure you have a clear goal in mind:

  • Why are you starting this program?
  • What does success look like for students and the school?
  • What is the most important lesson for students to learn?
  • How is the mentorship aspect enhancing the actual class?
  • What will the students learn from this experience — before, during and after class?

Once you know the answers to these important questions, you’ll be able to begin developing an impactful mentorship program that helps develop the whole child. And, as an added benefit, you’ll hopefully be able to watch your idea become a school tradition in which all of your students look forward to participating!

Dan Ajerman began his 46th year of teaching as the new Science Department chair and upper-level biology teacher at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, a member of the Meritas International Family of Schools. After retiring from the New York City public school system, Dan continued his teaching career at independent schools in NYC, Oklahoma, California and Florida. In addition to teaching, he is an Item Writer and Reader for the AP Biology exam.

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