The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 17, 2010

Seniors are mentors for seventh-grade students

Leadership Club members provide positive role models, support for younger teens

JEFFERSON — Everyone knows that high school is the best years of your life. It can also be a very difficult time for some students, with so much change going on at once. Most of the time, all a young adult may need is a little guidance in his life. As experienced and helpful as adults are, it can sometimes be difficult for their advice to be accepted by younger students. This is where the Jefferson Senior Leadership Club found its niche.

In 2002, school administrators at Jefferson needed a way to show the seventh graders what high school is all about. They found that the trouble with this is the level of communication between administration and the young students. This is where the Senior Leadership Club adviser Janis Williams came up with a solution.

“Nobody knows the school and how things work better than the senior class,” said Williams, an English and speech teacher and senior class adviser. “Then I realized, in the eyes of the seventh graders, these seniors are almost ‘gods.’ They regard them with such a high standard and anything they say is ‘gold’ to them, so I figured if I can facilitate these seniors to be direct, positive role models, our school would become a better place starting.”

This idea created the Senior Leadership Club.

Members of the Senior Leadership Club connect with their “little brother” or “little sister” in a variety of ways. Most of the sister pairs keep a journal between each other and find that it is easy to open up and communicate by not being face to face. On the other hand, the men prefer to eat lunch together and discuss what is going on in each other’s lives. Topics range from sports and hunting, to grades and girlfriends, and the casual lunch table atmosphere makes it easier to open up. The results from this small talk and journal writing can vary from just earning a friend, all the way to bully awareness and admittance to self-inflicted pain. For most of the older brothers and sisters, nothing extreme as this will surface, but for a few students, they see their older siblings as a person that they can trust and talk to openly without being judged and generalized.

Some talk this year shed light on a growing gang problem in the junior high wing, and positive action by the older sibling helped smother the problem before it became an issue. Another case included domestic violence, and the younger sibling saw his older brother as a person who will understand and help him. But these are severe cases, with more than 100 seventh graders enjoying the benefits of having a senior as an “older” sibling. They see them as a friend that they can just be casual with, such as the case with Jesse Kidd.

“I was planning on going sledding on one of the snow days, and I thought it would be cool to include my little brother,” Kidd said. “We had a blast, it was so much fun, and I know it meant the world to him.”

Along with the mentoring, the older and younger siblings participate in a couple of activities. Each year, the group has an opportunity to spend a whole day with each other when they take a field trip to the Jefferson Lanes Bowling Alley. This is seen as a time to meet all of the younger siblings’ friends and a chance to introduce them to all of the older friends, to take a whole day off and be able to connect with them outside of school. To end the program, a picnic for all the members, along with their younger siblings, is planned for the end of May. Since 2003, everyone involved in Senior Leadership Club has taken a school day off and enjoyed a day of sports, barbecue, fishing and friendship at Thousand Trails Campground. This picnic is regarded as the closing ceremony to the program and reflects the casual style to the program. The junior class officers are invited to help with the food, usually grilling up hot dogs and hamburgers for a classic cookout.

The class of 2010 is one of the largest to graduate recently, with class size pushing 190 students. This great size translates directly to the membership in the Senior Leadership Club. This year’s club includes more than 50 members, all of which took on at least one younger brother or sister; some members took up to three. This increased number allows for a greater focus on each mentorship experience and individual attention. Last year, with a smaller group of older siblings and around 80 seventh graders, it was hard to meet every demand for mentoring. But this year’s low ratio of mentors has produced one of the best experiences to date.

Officers of this year’s club are president, Sarah Paul; vice president, Jenna March; treasurer, William Applebee; and secretary, Mikenzie Schreiber.

Along with the younger student mentoring, which is the main objective of the group, Senior Leadership is also in charge of putting on the annual Talent Show. This year’s show is planned for 7 p.m. April 30. Acts vary from local bands, dance routines, vocal shows, comedy acts, skits and usually performances from each one of Mrs. Williams’ speech classes. Some of this year’s anticipated acts will include CityCop, a rock band with senior Eddie Gancos leading the band and providing the vocals; Steve Berilla, one of Jefferson High School’s finest substitute teachers, providing the crowd with a fiddle show; and Katie Schindler, who won third place last year, blessing the crowd with her great voice.

Tickets will be $6 a piece and all proceeds will fund the continuance of the Senior Leader Club. Acts are still being accepted and anybody interested in performing should contact Janis Williams in Room B209.

Everyone is urged to come out on April 30 and watch Jefferson’s finest show off their skill.

For eight years now, Jefferson seniors have been making Jefferson Area High School and the surrounding community a better place by showing younger students how to handle high school and become responsible young adults. From what started as a solution to a problem has emerged as a club, highly anticipated by incoming seventh graders, and a great way to build friendships that will last a lifetime.