Social Work class mentors sixth-grade students


Cheyanne Crum, Features editor

This semester, Mercyhurst is offering a class called Leadership through Mentoring in the Social Work department. Throughout the course, the students go to Joanna Connell Elementary to mentor a sixth-grade class.
This group of mentees was chosen to be in the program by the teachers and the school counselor, who felt the kids would benefit from having a caring adult in their life.
“These are kids that might come from homes that have some challenges. Some of these kids are really good students, some of them are not-so-good students. It’s for the kid that is exceptional in academics, but they’re super shy and never talk. It’s to build confidence,” Laura Lewis, Ph.D., associate professor of Sociology and Social Work, said.
Lewis is involved with Erie Together, an organization that works to make Erie a community of opportunity where everyone can learn, work and thrive.
“It really started as ‘how do we better address poverty?’ and one of the key ways to address poverty is really make sure kids get a good education, graduate from high school and know that there are opportunities beyond that,” Lewis said.
Erie Together started a mentoring program last year with Penn State and a school in Girard. Lewis decided that it would be a rewarding experience for Mercyhurst students as well.
“Listening to the kids that went through it at Girard and listening to the mentors and what they got from it, I just felt that for Mercyhurst this would be a win-win,” said Lewis. “We could be doing something positive out in the community and making a difference in the life of these kids and our students would be getting a great experience, too, because they would learn a lot.”
The first five weeks were spent in the classroom learning how to mentor.
“We covered what mentoring is, what a mentor does, some of the skills needed to be a mentor. We’ve done some skill development and we’ve looked at what we are going to do when we’re with the mentees,” Lewis said.
The mentoring class is learning about the importance of having a consistent, positive influence while growing up.
“We do not know if the kids from Joanna Connell have the positive influencers in their lives or not, but we are trying to implement this either way,” Colin O’Connor, senior Social Work major, said.
For the first few weeks that the students were mentoring, the focus was on relationship building.
“We do this icebreaker every time, it’s called One Up, One Down. Basically the kids go around and talk about anything that is going really well for them and any kind of challenge that they might be having. It’s just a quick way to try to get to know each other,” Lewis said.
Now that the students are the mentors, the activities are going to be more intentional. The focus is on building trust and working to set goals.
“(Last) week we (were) focusing on trust, so what activities can we come up with, using the curriculum guide to work with the kids to help develop trust. So we do a trust walk and talk about the steps to becoming a trustworthy individual,” said Lewis. “Rather than just talk about trust, we do activities that give the kids time to process it and think about it.”
This week the mentors will be helping the kids to set some goals. They will be determining what a goal is and then the mentors will help the kids meet those goals.
“The whole idea behind the class is that these kids can have someone in their lives that they can talk to as a friend, without having to worry about anything that was talked about being made public,” Sarah Hershey, sophomore Social Work major, said.
The class is very student-driven; every Tuesday the class meets to talk about what happened during the session the previous Thursday.
“We talk about what we might want to change for the next week,” said Lewis. “There’s been some time spent planning for the next session. The students take some time to plan the next activities.”
Katherine Appell, junior Public Health major, agreed that Lewis allows the students to have a direct role in the class and what they do leads them to have a more close-knit class environment.
The students in the mentoring class have committed to a year of mentoring, even after the class ends in December.
“I’m excited to see what happens throughout the year in terms of how close we all get to each other, both mentees and mentors alike,” said Hershey. “It’s a great class to take because not only do we get to form new relationships with the mentees, but we also get to make new relationships with our classmates here at Mercyhurst.”
There are hopes that even after the year is up that the students will continue with this program by being leaders for the class next year.
“What I would like to see is the students that go through this year, if they could become the leaders to help prepare future students to become mentors. The point of this class is to teach our students to develop leadership skills,” Lewis said.
Lewis makes it very clear that this class is not just for Social Work majors. This year’s class has Social Work, Sociology, Criminal Justice and Public Health majors.
“Next year, I would like to open it up because I don’t think that it should be limited to just people who we typically think are going to go into that type of profession. Whether it’s Business, Intel or Fashion Merchandising, I think there are lots of people that would love to participate in something like this, but we needed to start small,” Lewis said.