Everyone Needs a Mentor:
Meet the Dogs (and Pups) of Morrilton Primary
By: Meghan Ables, 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year
School districts all around the state and nation have recognized the importance of student mentoring programs in their schools. Schools with a high number of poverty students are working diligently to offer a variety of wrap-around services for those students. Mentoring is just one more opportunity to meet the social and emotional needs of students. Morrilton Primary School in Arkansas has mastered the concept of mentoring through its “Puppies to Dogs” program.
As the calendar turns, the juniors at Morrilton High School count down the days until they can become a part of this tradition. As seniors, they will have the opportunity to go over to the elementary school on a regular basis for service projects, board games, reading, mentoring, and more. The numbers of students wanting to mentor is so great that seniors now have to apply to be a mentor. This process includes a commitment sheet, teacher references, and writing prompts on why they want to be a mentor. Being a part of these young students’ lives brings joy, hope, and accountability to these seniors as they prepare to move on to their next chapter.
Once the puppies are matched up to their mentor, the process begins. The group meets to introduce themselves and get to know each other. By the second quarter, the relationships have grown into friendships. One senior football player even asked his puppy to walk with him across the field on senior night. What a special memory…. Other seniors can’t wait to get their puppy a Christmas present before the holiday break. By the second semester, these “friends” are planning their annual graduation celebration party where the seniors get to wear their cap and gown to the elementary school.
The main mission of this program is to help elementary students learn and use the seven habits of behavior through the Leader in Me program, learn the importance of giving back through service projects, understand the importance of life-long reading, and instill character for both the puppy and the dog. It is no surprise that these seniors learn just as much from their younger friends during the process. The seniors I spoke with could not wait to share their stories. I chuckled as they talked about how much energy the younger students had during each visit. These seniors realize that they have a chance to prevent these younger students from making the same mistake that they did.
Morrilton Primary is also mentoring its students as to what a healthy snack consists of through the Arkansas Department of Education’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (info here http://adecm.arkansas.gov/ViewApprovedMemo.aspx?Id=1779). Students have the opportunity to have a fresh snack each day and try fruits and vegetables that they may otherwise never taste. The school has loved being a part of this program, and the students have been surprised at the new foods they have learned to like.
The faculty and staff have been focusing together on student results. Together they are reading Focus, a resource by Mike Schmoker (http://mikeschmoker.com/). This faculty is doing what it takes to reach the whole child and prepare students for the future. Not only are these teachers learning pertinent strategies to improve learning results, but the school itself is growing physically. A new gym, new classrooms, and improved routes around the building are going to bring a new sense of pride and excitement to the campus.
The energy in this building was palpable. Every corner I saw happy teachers and excited kids. I saw students learning reading through a variety of creative and innovative methods. I saw leadership in the academic coaches. I also saw administrators and superintendent who love what they do. I am so proud for this great group of mentors. It is going to be exciting to see what this school accomplishes with the strong foundation it is setting for students: new buildings, new strategies, and a strong, successful mentoring program.
Seeing this great mentoring made me reflect on the mentoring our new teachers in Arkansas need. Let’s all commit to guiding, encouraging, and mentoring all new teachers that come into our schools. Let’s all help them discover their love for teaching. Let’s all share our best strategies. Let’s help them plant their roots and continue to teach children and change lives. I will cheer loudly for them. Join me! I will commit to this, will you?