Wednesday, 28 January 2015 03:44

Big Brothers Big Sisters teen mentoring hits Eagle Butte

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A group of "bigs" from Eagle Butte and their "littles" from Redcliff's Margaret Wooding School. A group of "bigs" from Eagle Butte and their "littles" from Redcliff's Margaret Wooding School. Photo contributed

While the name says Big Brothers, Big Sisters (BBBS) Medicine Hat, it only tells part of the story as the group has a program which benefits those outside city limits.

Dunmore’s Eagle Butte High School and Redcliff's Margaret Wooding Elementary students can attest to that.
January is National Mentoring Month in Canada, so the local agency is firming up its commitment to the rural area.
Jill Forsythe, caseworker for Medicine Hat BBBS, is excited about the prospects of the mentoring program using teenage students. Forsythe says those who volunteer for this kind of programming are generally high energy, high-achieving students who have a desire to make a difference in their community. Some  are also looking to explore their strengths and weaknesses and look at it as an opportunity for personal growth. 
The program teaches the teens important leadership and communication skills, increases their self-esteem and also provides the teens with valuable experience for resumés and post-secondary education applications.  
“I have had more than one teen at Eagle Butte step up and take over the planning and implementation of a full session for the entire group, and this is exactly the goal of the program concerning the teens,” explains Forsythe. “We really are creating our future leaders
by offering this kind of opportunity to teens in high school. The teens are also a little closer in age to elementary school students and therefore a little more appealing than an adult. To children in grades 4 and 5 (our average mentee grade level) a high-school student is pretty much a rock star. They are still in school, but are older and more experienced. They are still a role model, but they aren’t there to discipline like a parent. 
“Teens are often perceived by the mentees as friends with just a little more maturity, who can still be
really goofy and are willing to play and ‘do kid stuff.’ The mentees also get to have a look at what life in high school is going to be like, which is very exciting for them.”
According to Forsythe, children in BBBS programs are coming from single-parent families, and they may need a boost in some way at school and/or in their home life. Parents must sign permission forms that adhere to BBBS Canada’s National Standards and provide information as to why they feel their children could benefit from a mentor.
After the parent permission forms are turned in, the children participate in a pre-match training session to discuss safe, healthy relationships, the importance of personal safety and to communicate that their mentor has been chosen to be a safe, trusted person.
Children are matched with their teen mentors based on the information Forsythe has collected. 
The pilot Teen Mentoring Program began in the 2012-2013 school year. The first program ran for eight weeks, with students meeting for one hour per week, after school on Tuesdays. There were seven initial matches for a total of 14 students and these numbers have continued in the second and third sessions.
The idea for Teen Mentoring arose from DREAMS Project Co-ordinator Jamie Sawatsky’s conversations with the teaching staff at Margaret Wooding School.
Sawatsky was still in the process of getting to know what the school wanted from the DREAMS program and the consensus from the staff was the school really needed a group mentoring program.
Instead of starting a new program from scratch, Sawatsky approached BBBS to see what the Medicine Hat agency could offer.  
Teen Mentoring was a pre existing BBBS program
in Canada, and it was decided the school would
partner with BBBS Medicine Hat, using their in-house DREAMS staff as the BBBS school liaison to help get the program up and running.
According to Forsythe, the decision to use Eagle Butte High School in Dunmore was to simply keep the program operating within the Prairie Rose School District. 
Forsythe says a lot of work is done to get this program working. She recruits her teen mentors
at Eagle Butte High school one month prior to the program start date. She recruits through presentations to classes, assemblies, distributing flyers and posters throughout the school and meeting with any interested students.
“Once I have my applications in, the teens are screened to the same standards as our adults are with interviews and reference checks to ensure they will be an ideal mentor to a child in need,” Forsythe explains. “Our interviews are structured to provide a personality profile to give us as much information as possible on the potential volunteer and there is no difference in the interview questions for teens or adults. All volunteers in our programs also go through a pre-match training session to explain the details of the program, the rules of the program and a large section on child protection and safety laws, rules and regulations. After I have my final number of teen mentors, I can then let Jamie Sawatsky know how many mentees will be allowed to participate and she recruits suitable students from Margaret Wooding Elementary School.”
Forsythe tries to match children and teens based on similar personality traits and interests. They generally try to match girls to girls, and boys to boys, but as girls and women outnumber male volunteers generally in her experience 1:10. In most cases, there will be a number of boys mentored by a female volunteer.
This matching process is the same across all programs regardless of the volunteer’s age.
At this point they are ready for the 10 weeks of matching. The mentees are bussed with Sawatsky
to and from Eagle Butte School. 
“We meet for one hour per week at Eagle Butte High School, as there is simply more space and resources available in high schools than in elementary schools,” explains Forsythe. “I provide the group with healthy snacks to start off our sessions, followed by activities planned by myself. We have done activities in the past such as decorating T-shirts, making homemade silly putty, played Twister, played dodge ball in the gym, baked and decorated cookies, made gingerbread houses, having scavenger hunts and always a variety of arts and crafts projects or simply hanging out playing games and talking.  We also have Medalta Potteries come in with a visiting artist.
“This semester, Jamie and I are looking to incorporate more community involvement and bringing people in to run sessions focusing on fun healthy activities such as yoga, Zumba, and having the students create their own healthy snacks. The last day of the session is always an extra special one treated
as a party to say good-bye to each other as we involve new children in each 10-week session to reach as many children as we possibly can.”

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor