There are 35 mentor and mentee pairs at Central High School, and there are more students who could benefit from having a mentor, said Cheryl O’Connor, a teacher and program director.
The goal of the program is to help students graduate and have a plan for after graduation, O’Connor said.
While the school is looking for mentors in general, they’re also looking particularly for male adults to serve as mentors.
Mentors are asked to commit at least one hour a week to meet with their mentee. The program is flexible to accommodate schedules and plans.
During their time together, they set goals, talk about healthy living, complete school work and talk about what’s going on in their lives. O’Connor said one of the key parts of being a good mentor is being a good listener.
Mentors and students are partnered based on their interests.
Prior to meeting with students, mentors receive training.
When students have mentors, O’Connor said they typically have increased attendance, higher GPA, and fewer behavior problems.
Spring Lake resident Suzanne Richards has been a mentor for three years.
Richards, a Grand Valley State University professor, said she’s familiar with the research on mentoring that suggests it plays a positive role for students.
Richards said it also gives her a chance to give back to students and the community.
Being a former principal, Richards said she misses that contact, and being a mentor gives her a chance to interact with students.
Over the years, Richards said she’s gone to lunch or coffee with students to talk about what’s going on in their life and listen.
She said she believes she’s a positive role model and she can help students make connections for their future by talking about college and employment.
Richards said she talks about the application process and what college is like, if her mentee is interested in exploring that route for their future.
“It’s also another adult in their life that cares about them and cares about their future,” she said.
When Richards and her mentee first met this year, they worked toward helping her get a job. They discussed and outlined a resume and then revised one that the student made.
Within a few weeks, Richards’ mentee had a job, which Richard said is a tribute to her mentee’s efforts.
Richards is also helping her mentee explore programs that fit her passion by touring the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s Careerline Tech Center.
Richards said the important thing for mentors to do is respect students as individuals, get to know them, and affirm who they are.
At the beginning of the school year, Central High School junior Hailey Rozek joined the mentor program.
Each Wednesday, Rozek, 16, said she looks forward to meeting with her mentor, who has helped her learn not to hold things in and to work through obstacles instead of avoiding them.
Rozek said it’s nice having someone she can talk to about what’s going on in her life.
Rozek’s mentor is also helping her look at what’s in store for the future.
After graduation, Rozek plans to study business so she can open a restaurant with her sister.
If adults are on the fence about mentoring, Rozek said they should try because there are many students who could benefit and use their help.
Rozek also encouraged her peers to also step outside their comfort zone and participate if they have the opportunity because it’s a positive experience.
“It isn’t as scary as you think,” she said. “They’re just as much interested in your future as you are.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the program or becoming a mentor can call the Central High School office at 616-850-6800 or email Cheryl O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.