Helping freshmen connect the dots


Juniors Julia Timpane and Angelo Lepore and senior Matthew Hopper sign postcards for the incoming freshmen. Every year the mentors mail out a card with a short letter about the Connect Mentors Program for each freshman.

With every new school year comes an inexperienced clan of anxious freshmen. However, there are resources avaliable to help them adjust. The Connect Mentors program aims to assist freshmen throughout their first year of high school.
An overwhelming number of upperclassmen applied to be a mentor this year. So many juniors wanted to apply that the number of applications was cut off at 110.

More students wished to apply for the program, but were unaware that if the application slots filled up, that they would not be interviewed or considered. Of the 110 junior applicants, 98 were interviewed, and 55 selected to be mentors.
There were also 44 seniors accepted into the program who were mentors the previous year. Altogether, there are 99 total mentors for the 2018-2019 school year.

“I wanted to join because I really enjoyed having the mentors as someone to look up to and to guide me during my freshman year and I wanted to be able to do the same for incoming freshman,” junior Caitlin Cunningham said. “I was upset when they had to cut it off because we were given a deadline without the indication that it was first come first serve and I feel that because of the cut off, certain people who were passionate about becoming a mentor were denied the chance to even have an interview.”

Ms. Jeana Norton is the Small Learning Community (SLC) Coordinator and head of the Connect Mentors Program. She works to ensure that incoming freshmen have a smooth transition into high school. However, a large portion of the program is student-run. Upperclassmen who sign up for the mentorship program are responsible for helping the freshmen they are assigned to acclimate to high school, and a lot of it is done independent of staff oversight.
“[Upperclassmen] themselves have to learn what it means to be a Connect Mentor,” Ms. Norton said. “They lend support to the freshmen’s transition and they lead all of the activities.”

Going from middle to high school is a big adjustment. Freshmen must learn things like which lunch they are supposed to attend based on their schedule, how much Homecoming tickets are, and what sports and clubs are offered. Guidance from upperclassmen makes the transition more manageable.

“I [was] very honored to be chosen to be a Connect Mentor,” junior Chris Bird said. “I am very excited to get the chance to be a role model for our fresh faces in the Washington-Lee community.”

Although the Connect Mentors Program is not a new one, changes are always being made. Every year Mrs. Norton tweaks the program hoping to improve its functionality and practicality. For example, the usual outdoor first day activities have been altered to accommodate both the mentors and the freshmen.

“People have said that going out on the field was chaotic,” Ms. Norton said. “So we are going to add a more intimate tour of building instead because going outside was also very weather dependent.”

Although the Connect Mentors cannot complete freshman year for their mentees, they are there to help them in any and every way that they are able to. Ms. Norton has expressed how appreciative she is to work with the upperclassmen and freshmen in the program and to witness how the two groups interact and work together.

“We are a big school, but we want to stay connected,” Ms. Norton said. “That’s why [small learning communities] are important. We want that small feeling in a big environment.”