It’s 8:00 a.m., the time Fifth Grader Georgia Roberts refers to as “rush hour” in the Colorado Academy Lower School drop-off circle, as cars swing into the loop one after another to unload children. Wearing a high-visibility vest that fits her like a dress, Georgia calls a friendly “Good morning!” as she opens yet another car door and helps a younger student adjust backpack straps and head off to class. “Have a great day,” she waves, bidding farewell to the driver behind the wheel. Like all Colorado Academy Fifth Graders, Georgia is a Mustang Mentor, and this job, she says, is her “destiny.”
“I call it my destiny, because it is something that I love to do that makes me happy,” she says. “Even when I was little and saw older students with responsibilities, I couldn’t wait to do those jobs and show leadership.”
‘Working for the mission of the school’
The Fifth Grade mentorship program has long been a voluntary option for students, but under the leadership of Lower School Principal Angie Crabtree, the program is now required and has a new structure, philosophy, and formal name: Mustang Mentors.
“I hope the Fifth Graders see themselves as a cohesive group, working for the mission of the school,” Crabtree says. “The jobs they are doing make a difference. With them we can do more, plan more, and experience more.”
All Fifth Graders now go through a formal application process for a leadership position. They can apply for one of five different roles:
- Morning Safety Patrol: Students open car doors, greet families, help younger children, and in the process learn communication skills and poise.
- Pre-Kindergarten or Kindergarten Mentor: Students help teachers of younger students in various ways. They learn how to teach what they know, and they gain a behind-the-scenes appreciation for a teacher’s job.
- Physical Education Mentor: Students help execute the P.E. lesson for younger students. They teach sportsmanship, how to win and lose gracefully, and they also tie a lot of shoes!
- Special Area Mentor: Students help Pre-K and Kindergarten students in the dance program, the library, and in science classes.
- First Grade Mentor: Students work in a First Grade classroom as a teaching assistant, supporting the teacher by creating materials, decorating bulletin boards, and working with younger students.
“For the Fifth Graders, this is their opportunity to give back to the Lower School and leave a legacy,” Crabtree says. “It is a lesson in gratefulness. Before you depart, you pay it forward and do something to make a difference.”
‘Find what makes your heart sing’
Fifth Grader Wilson Love confesses that being a Pre-Kindergarten Mentor was not his first choice for a Mustang Mentor job, but now that he has the job, he can’t imagine he would like anything more. “I really like being able to interact with the youngest kids,” he says. “It helps you remember when you were that little, and you say, ‘Wow, that was me once. Now look at me!’”
On a typical day, Wilson hangs student art and helps on the playground, pushing Pre-K students on the swings or helping build a snowman. He has a big smile on his face all the time. “Mustang Mentors was such a good idea,” he says. “Someday, these Pre-K kids will get to the Fifth Grade and remember that I set an example for them.”
Being a Mustang Mentor gives students a taste of life in the real world. Every student keeps a binder with documentation of their assigned job. They fill out a job application which asks them, “As a leader, what is your goal?” The form also asks them to create a six-word memoir, which will inform their approach to leadership. The memoirs are insightful and heartfelt and could serve to inspire leaders of all ages.
“Be true, you only have you.”
“Have fun, remember kindness, love life.”
“Keep on going no matter what!”
After Mustang Mentors finish a task, they fill out a timesheet, recording the service they provide once every six-day rotation. They write self-evaluations about their experiences. “Dancing with the Pre-K puts a smile on my face,” writes one student.
The Fifth Graders are also evaluated by an adult team of supervisors who complete a form giving them feedback on their participation, ability to work independently, and attitude. They meet with Crabtree monthly to do team-building exercises and reflect on their jobs. She is already seeing results for the program as students mature, develop independence, and become more invested in their school.
“They truly feel that things won’t function unless they are here!” Crabtree says. “When this class is in the Upper School preparing to graduate, I believe they will look back at the impact they had on the Lower School.”
No doubt Georgia Roberts will, since she has now had the chance to fulfill her destiny and live her six-word memoir: “Find what makes your heart sing.”