LAHS freshmen get assistance to succeed in high school from senior sidekicks

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By Kirsten Laskey

For freshmen in high school, it’s pretty common to feel a little lost once they walk through the school’s doors. Some of their questions might be: Where are the classrooms, what are the best schedules, what clubs and activities are best to be involved in.   

Luckily, the Youth Mobilizers, a program administrated by the Family YMCA, has come up with a resource to answer these and other questions – from the real experts on these issues.  

And just who are these walking encyclopedias of high school information? They are high school seniors.

This year, the Youth Mobilizers instituted a mentoring program called Senior Side Kicks. In the program, seniors and freshmen are matched together to do anything from spending a lunch period together to hanging out on a weekend.

“The whole purpose of Senior Side Kicks is to open the door to more friends,” said Linda Daly, executive director of the Family YMCA.

With just one meeting the first week of school, the Senior Side Kicks has already been a great success. Seventy seniors showed up to offer their wisdom to more than 100 underclassmen.

It all started with a survey. During the previous school year, the Youth Mobilizers conducted a survey on why high school students dropped out of school. One of the many reasons was that students who were surveyed said they felt disenfranchised and left out, Daly said.

Sylvan Argo, supervisor for Youth Mobilizers, said, “One of the main things they were talking to youth and last year (was that) youth needed to feel more welcome in high school.”

Argo added that many students’ reasons for leaving school are social-based. So members of the Youth Mobilizers began to discuss how to create a better school environment.

After working on it during the summer and providing a sign up sheet to former eighth-graders and another sheet to seniors, the Senior Side Kicks had its first meeting last week.

Daly said the interest was surprising.

It quickly became apparent that the room was “much too small,” she said.

To continue the program, this year’s Youth Mobilizers members, Emi Weeks and Josh Dolin, are working on a guide book and a set of expectations for both seniors and freshman participants.

“So far it’s been going really well,” Weeks said. She added they are planning to hold meetings once a month.

What are some of the reasons behind the program’s success?

Daly said for one thing, entering high school is a big deal and it helps to have a friend with some experience in this new environment.

“When they come into high school, it’s larger than the middle school,” she said. “It’s like moving to a new city. You’ve got your buddies and friends but to have someone who has gone through two-three years of high school … to have somebody taking you under their wing, give advice, share experiences and introduce them to fun clubs, gets them engaged or engaged quicker into high school activities.”

Daly knows this from personal experience. She said as underclassman, she was lucky enough to have an upperclassman on her track team be her mentor.

Daly said she remembers just feeling thrilled when her fellow track runner would say hello to her in the hall. “That was pretty cool,” she said.

Weeks added, “I think freshmen really look up to seniors.” The newcomers to high school are looking to the seniors to set the example, she said.

Argo commented to have such a high  turn out is “a little overwhelming but it speaks volumes of what this club is about.”

There is an opening for a third member in the Youth Mobilizers. Interested individuals are invited to pick up an application at the YMCA front desk.

Weeks encourages others to participate in the program because of all the learning opportunities. She said the club teaches about researching, public speaking and working with adults.

Plus, Weeks said it looks great on college applications.

To get more information, e-mail Argo at youth@laymca.com.