As school leaders, we often ask ourselves: How can I be sure that I am meeting the needs of every one of my students? How can I ensure no one is forgotten? The kids who are naturally part of a group such as band, sports teams, Student Government Association, or clubs generally have found their niche in the school community. They have found their school family, those individuals who will support them throughout their high school career.
What about those students who don’t have a group to which they belong? How do we ensure they are not forgotten or lost in the shuffle of a big school? How do we find them that niche we know will help them succeed? The answer is the establishment of a true culture of caring, where everyone in the building looks out for one another.
Many years ago, when I first assumed the role of principal, I found that the students in my lowest quartile were not achieving as they should and were making academic gains at a very low rate. I also found that the majority of these students were not involved in any capacity in the school culture, meaning they were not members of any school clubs or organizations. Knowing that students who are involved have a greater chance of making it to the graduation stage, I had to change this.
I initiated a program known as “Kefford’s Kids.” And just so we are all on the same page, I love a program that carries an alliteration in its title. Kefford’s Kids is a peer mentoring program that pairs young students who are not where they should be in terms of their academics, extracurricular activities, or both, with students who are. In this program, we have the mentees, “Kefford’s Kids,” as well as the mentors, “Kefford’s Krew.”
Structure and Social Events
The program kicks off at the start of each school year with a “get to know you” social. Students are paired during this first meeting based on their schedules. They are simply told that we are pairing upperclassmen with underclassmen in an effort to build relationships within the school. Twice a month, the mentors and mentees meet during study hall class and have a predetermined topic on which they focus their meeting. A teacher oversees the interactions between the students, and any concerns, issues, or roadblocks are reported to the teacher for intervention.
As part of the program, we host several social events for the group throughout the year to make it a special and fun experience for the kids. We engage in team-building activities, games, contests, and of course, we feed everyone…which is always a crowd pleaser.
Looking Out for One Another Matters
This program has yielded incredible results. The first year it was implemented, the learning gains of this group of students skyrocketed from 48% to 69%. In addition, student involvement in clubs and activities increased by 30%. In fact, 95% of these students went on to the next grade level on track for graduation.
The bottom line is that we all need to look out for one another. We need to teach our students to support each other and to build one another up, cheer each other on, and celebrate the success that results from our efforts to build a true family.