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Life Lessons - Mentoring program allows PLU and middle school students to learn from each other

by Nisha Ajmani '02

Every time they met, their eyes opened a little more. Yvette Brown, a PLU education major, and Megan Riden, a seventh-grader at Keithley Middle School, talked, laughed and did homework. But, most importantly, they spent last spring learning from each other.

“She taught me that life’s not easy but we can still do our best,” said Brown ’04. Riden responded, “I learned to stay in school and try even though it might be hard.”

From shooting hoops to helping out in math, about 100 PLU students participate each year in a program called LIFE, Leaders in Friendship Experiences. LIFE, which was started in spring 2002, combines relationship-building experiences with academic support for middle school students in the Franklin Pierce School District. PLU students meet once a week with his or her own middle schooler. “We felt we needed to have a one-on-one with our students,” said Lynn Sawyer, middle school prevention resource coordinator. About half of the students’ time concentrates on homework, and the other half focuses on bonding and teaching more than just math and reading.

“I learned how to respect people,” said Christina Shockley, seventh-grader.

However, LIFE doesn’t just benefit the middle school students. The youth are nominated by their teachers to participate in the program and asked if they would be willing to help PLU students get real life experience in working with middle school students. According to Sawyer, the program is designed to inspire the middle school students to want to succeed in school, while at the same time provide training for pre-service teachers and social workers enrolled at PLU.

“PLU students get a real idea about what middle school life and challenges are about,” said Sawyer. At Keithley Middle School, the students take their mentors to class with them and show them around the school. Then, at the end of each year, the middle school students are invited to PLU for a tour and celebration.

Brown said the program helped her see the struggles many middle school students go through. “All you can do is be there to encourage them to go as far as they can go,” Brown said. Sometimes she and Riden did homework, but the rest of the time Brown just listened. Brown encouraged Riden by telling her that school is important no matter what else is going on in her life and urging her to go to college.

The encouragement and advice seems to sink in. Sawyer says she has seen a lot of improvement among the youth. They get a sense that teachers and other adults care about them and that schoolwork does matter. Students who may not have even heard the word “university” before are not only introduced to post-secondary education, most intend to go.

Sawyer is excited that PLU is sending students onto middle school campuses. “PLU has done a neat thing in investing in the community,” Sawyer said.

Miara Dawkins, left, Johnathan Heimes, center, and Samantha Krier

Miara Dawkins, left, Johnathan Heimes, center, and Samantha Krier – all sixth-graders – check out the exhibit in the University Gallery. (Photo by Jordan Hartman)


Photo Credits

By: Jordan Hartman '02
Katie Fowler ’04, left, shows eighth-grader Monteece Brewer and seventh-grader Johan Molina around the PLU campus.


 Back to top  Fall 2003 Scene Copyright 2003 Pacific Lutheran University  Credits ~ Last Updated 09-05-2003 ~ Comments