Bear Lake mentorship program boosts school culture

Bear Lake High School students gather after a service project that is now part of their advisory classes. Some students and school leaders say the classes and the emphasis on mentorship feel like family.

Tabetha Bissegger, an English teacher at Bear Lake High School, sees school counseling time as much more than time to help kids with homework.

“It’s different,” she said.

Social studies professor Paul Kucharek went further: “It’s family.

The consultative class that ends the school day allows students at the Montpellier-based school, surrounded by woods and farms, to take a step back from their lessons, plan, set goals and be supervised – and maybe some tutoring.

It is a time for reflection, planning and learning to help them navigate a school-wide mastery-based learning agenda. But the core of the advice — what students say and school leaders actually say much more — is its emphasis on mentorship.

Teachers supervising students. Students supervising students.

Helping students know and trust their educators and peers has been key, which has been a lifeline for several local teens during the pandemic, said principal Luke Kelsey.

“It’s providence, really,” Kelsey said of the school’s implementation of the program through Summit Learning, before the social challenges of COVID-19.

Students spend their last period of the day in their 65-minute consultative class consisting of 18-25 teenagers and a mentor teacher. Classes are a mix of learners from all levels of high school who stay together for the four years – a tactic designed to help them get to know their teacher and each other, and feel comfortable teach and learn together.

This was a big plus for freshman Giuli Saxton, who tackled geometry during her freshman year of high school. A senior who passed the class and switched to trigonometry became a counseling period friend and volunteer tutor.

“It helped me a lot,” Saxton said, adding that it was nice to have someone other than your math teacher to help you.

Spending more than an hour in class allows students to plan and set goals through Summit’s online mastery-based platform, which includes a timeline and their progress on assignments and tests for all of their classes . Their consultant teacher can see their progress and set regular and random check-ins.

Mastery-based learning requires students to meet certain grade thresholds to progress. No B or C. Students progress at their own pace. Bear Lake’s mastery model means getting at least 80% on assigned tests and projects.

Missing assignments and low scores are flagged for students to redo. The board provides plenty of time to reflect and work with other students and teachers to improve.

Senior Elise Kelsey reflected on four years in math teacher Tarl Vickers’ advisory class. In first year, his “big and bushy” beard was scary. But getting to know him over the years has helped her warm up and rely on him to help her with her homework and through life’s challenges.

“It’s nice to have someone to talk to who isn’t a parent,” she said, adding that Vickers has been a big help with issues beyond school. , sports to friends.

It’s a way to let off steam, take a step back and see the bigger picture, she says.

Today, Mr. Vicker isn’t scary at all, Elise Kelsey said, smiling at how he calls the student advisory group his “toddlers” and how they call him “Mom.”

“Unlikely” relationships also emerged between the students, said Luke Kelsey, referring to several friendships between children from very different backgrounds and interests.

“A lot of them wouldn’t be friends if it hadn’t been for (counseling),” Kelsey said.

Junior Josh Walker moved to school last year from South Carolina. He said the counseling was a big help in adjusting socially and the focus on service projects made it easier.

Each year advisory classes descend on the town, raking leaves for widows, cleaning up a local park and more.

Walker recalled “cramming” in his car with other counseling students earlier this school year and listening to music on the way to a service project.

Cameron Crain, the school’s 300-student counselor, said simple social interactions like these may not seem like a big deal, but they can be huge. “It’s just a good thing for so many people.”

Crain also touted increased interactions between students and teachers. Since the program launched four years ago, he has seen a “major drop” in the number of students who end up in his office with serious mental health issues. Teachers who help students solve more minor problems have played an important role.

And it deepens the bonds at school in “so many ways,” Bissegger said. “Courses really feel like family to many of us.”

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

EdNews associate editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and the education of students living in poverty. He lives and works in eastern Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be contacted by email at [email protected].

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