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Learning at its Best

An Alternative to Cultural Expectations of Teenagers

We have been experiencing an interesting phenomenon these past two weeks. Some of my students that graduated last year attend a local technical high school. The school had a fire in the chemistry lab and suffered fire and water damage causing the school to be closed.

Thinking back to my youth, these unexpected days off would likely have been spent sleeping in, watching tv, hanging with friends, going to the local Friendly’s etc…

Well, I keep receiving emails from my recent graduates asking to come to their old school so that they can mentor younger students for the day. They are enjoying this time so much, they keep asking to come back as they find out that their school continues to be closed.

They are offering their expertise in solar car building and design, helping kindergarteners with consensus decision making as they choose their class music video, assisting 2nd/3rd graders with sewing projects, accompanying young students on hikes, participating in and lending experience to essay writing mini lessons for 6th & 7th graders. The list goes on.

These are the people that inspire me, they are the hope for our collective future. Something draws them back, something more powerful than the cultural expectation of a teenager their age. Something that doesn’t show up on the standardized tests. Something that I wish I had in my life at their age.


About kaseyerrico

Works at a small charter school with the mission of "Educating children for a hopeful, sustainable future."


4 thoughts on “An Alternative to Cultural Expectations of Teenagers

  1. Awesome. If we built our systems to encourage and allow for such mentoring, I wonder how much more kids would learn through mentoring than they do from us.

    Any plans to continue the mentoring after the school repairs?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 24, 2012, 9:13 am
    • We have graduates that come in more sporadically when their school has a day off in which we are in school. Some come back for after school clubs, such as garden club, which involves a lot of multiage mentoring, since students from K-8 participate.

      One reason the students consider coming back to mentor in the first place is that mentoring is something we intentionally build into our system and is highly valued. For example, at the beginning of the year, a 7/8 grade group mentored the Kindergarten group in harvesting their vermacompost from their worm bin, by showing them how to separate worms from the worm castings and set up the worm bin with fresh bedding to start the cycle again. Then, a few weeks ago that Kindergarten group mentored a 6/7 group in turning over their worm bin. They also taught them some worm & composting games and songs that they had learned. All of the kids had a great time and relationships were cultivated.

      This year we have had mentoring for a group cooking experience between the Kindergarten and 7/8 group following a Saturday trip to the local farmers’ market. Those same two groups of students participated in a nature poetry writing mentor experience. Some of the poems that they created are slated for publishing in a local organization’s poetry anthology about wild spaces. We have a day hike planned for both groups on the Appalachian Trail in May. They will be sharing and practicing leave no trace principles and trail safety.

      There are many other examples of mentoring. Having multiage class groupings, as well as placing a focus on collaboration and project based experiences makes mentoring a natural fit and a great opportunity for a different kind of learning.

      Posted by kaseyerrico | March 24, 2012, 1:21 pm

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