Alma College students are encouraging local youth with special needs to reach their full potential through a new mentoring program in partnership with Alma High School. These efforts are already producing positive relationships and outcomes.
Katherine Bush, a member of the Alma High School faculty, reached out to Alma College last winter in search of collaboration. Her intention was to provide her students with positive role models who might help them learn a variety of transitional skills for use after high school.
The Alma Scots Alma Panthers Mentoring Program, also known as A.S.A.P., was established after many long and thoughtful conversations with Alma College’s Community Engagement and Volunteer Coordinator Sallie Scheide.
“On a daily basis, I listened to my students’ needs, struggles and dreams,” says Bush. “Many do not have a strong, positive role model to help guide them through their high school years and transition into adulthood. I knew my students needed and deserved more opportunities to help them reach their full potential.
“I needed to provide them with a community-wide experience that would build meaningful relationships,” says Bush. “I also knew that our community is blessed with passionate, intelligent and influential leaders who attend Alma College. So, my ultimate goal became the building of a rapport between my high school students and those of Alma College. I was hoping that the two groups would positively influence one another.”
Since September, the high school students have come to the Alma College campus once a month as part of this program. Bush and fellow high school teacher Jacquelynn Cosgrove have written and received several small grants to help facilitate the program.
The group of Alma College students is largely from the integrative physiology and health science (IPHS), nursing, healthcare administration and education programs. This has allowed A.S.A.P. the ability to offer programming focusing on building social, financial and nutritional skills. College and high school students also enjoy crafting and grabbing dinner together in Hamilton Commons.
In the spring of 2018, Hyun Kim of the Alma College IPHS faculty taught a spring-term course that helped establish a connection between these two groups. During that time approximately 20 college students worked with students in the high school. Roughly half of those continue to work with the high school students through A.S.A.P., along with about 10 more.
“At first, I was unsure of whether the students were going to enjoy this spring term course,” says Kim. “I really enjoyed it, and the continued participation of the students tells me they did as well.
“It is our hope that having the high school students interact with people besides their parents, teachers and classmates will help further prepare them for life after high school,” says Kim. “Simultaneously, many of the Alma College students who participate in A.S.A.P. are pursuing careers as health professionals. Thus, they will likely work with a variety of populations, and this experience is surely beneficial to them as not only people, but professionals as well.
“We have a good group of students who have joined and continue interacting with A.S.A.P.,” says Kim. “At this point, I am just a faculty advisor, and the students are actually coming up with the majority of the ideas, games and plans.”
Jennifer Kowalczyk, a junior from Northville, is one of the Alma College students who has continued to participate in A.S.A.P.
“During the course of our spring term, many of us became mentors and role models to the younger students,” says Kowalczyk. “We didn’t want to stop working with them when our course finished. With this program being implemented we were given more time to work with the students.
“One of my favorite memories was our holiday craft session,” says Kowalczyk. “A.S.A.P. made sock snowmen and Christmas cards for the residents of Arbor Grove Assisted Living. When we were done we all went together to deliver them. Watching the students interact with the elderly brought smiles to both us college students and the residents. It was so nice that we could do something so small and make such a difference in their week.”