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Fostering teacher-student bonds

Baldwin High School hosts annual Mentor Breakfast

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In keeping with tradition, Baldwin High School students and their mentors attended a special breakfast at which they spent time together, fostered close relationships and broke bread. 

At the 15th annual Mentor Breakfast at the high school on Dec. 19, about 250 people, including students, teachers and administrators, chatted over coffee cake and tea. The event is part of a 19-year relationship between the Baldwin School District and Mentor New York, an organization that “fuels quality mentoring relationships that bring a caring adult together with children in need,” according to its website. 

“It’s really wonderful to see, and the teachers are such advocates for the kids and try to support them in any way possible,” said BHS Assistant Principal Michelle Kwon. “But also, I think they really try to give the kids the tools they need to help them get through situations and give them that guidance.”

The students were invited to write thank-you cards to their mentors — designed by computer graphics students — which will be delivered on Jan. 31 in recognition of National Thank Your Mentor Day, said Pat Van Hazel, who was instrumental in starting the tradition. The annual breakfast takes place during National Mentoring Month, a campaign held each January to promote youth mentoring around the country. 

Several teachers and administrators have multiple mentees, many of whom meet with one another for all four years of the students’ academic career. 

“A lot of them end up having such a close relationship that even after they graduate,” Kwon said. “They stay in touch and they have that bond. It really works, and supports their social-emotional aspect of going through every day — if there’s issues, they know that they have someone they can go to.” 

Additionally, the high school’s mentoring program culminates in a dinner in the spring, at which students share their experiences with their mentors. Students take photos at the breakfast to be displayed at the dinner at the end of the school year. 

“We go every morning to bother her,” 10th-grader Ruby Malik said, referring to Dr. Arlene Guerrero, the high school’s assistant principal. Malik and her classmate Danasia Smith have been paired with Guerrero for two years. 

“The program is very good for children to have a better relationship with teachers around the school, because once you have a good relationship with one teacher, it kind of has a domino effect,” Malik said. “And it’s a really good program for kids to stay out of trouble, too, because you always have someone to turn to.” 

They check in during their lunch periods, too. “I check in every day,” Smith said. Sometimes two or three times a day, Guerrero added. 

“She’s like our school mom,” Malik said. “The whole main office knows us.” 

“They’re usually having no issues,” Guerrero said, “but there’s times when I can just look at their face, and I’m like, ‘OK, they really need a moment to sit and talk and get everything under control.’” 

Guerrero, who has been with the district for almost 20 years, said she used to head the mentoring program at the middle school and that only 13 pairs attended the end-of-the-year dinner when it started. “Now, it’s grown tremendously.”

“It’s just something very important to build on relationships, as Ruby said, because it’s very important for kids to see adults in a different light,” Guerrero said.

“It’s also really fun,” Malik playfully added. 

The mentoring program is a critical way for students to connect, Kwon said, especially for ninth-graders who have just come into the district and need that support for transition. 

Mary Hickey Truelson, an English teacher at the high school, and Daniel Johansen, a ninth-grader who is new to the district, have been paired since September. 

Johansen said he likes the program “because I could talk about my problems, if I’m mad or something.” 

“When I first met Daniel, he was very, very quiet,” Hickey Truelson said. “Now, we have good conversation, so we’ve come a long way.” 

Additionally, Bethpage Federal Credit Union sponsored the breakfast for the second straight year, providing a $500 grant to support the district’s mentoring efforts. 

All mentors receive training from a Mentor New York representative at the beginning of the school year, who provides insight and suggestions on how to build relationships with mentees. 

While some pairings have a specific schedule to meet once a week, others are more liberal and visit one another whenever they want to.