Peer Mentors Reach for New Horizons

By Natalie Butz

Senior WC peer mentors Emily Simpson and Antoine Jordan interact with a Horizons’ student during the November 2011 Play Day. - Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Siudzinski

The Peer Mentor Horizons Play Day is coming back for an encore this April, with one very important change. This time, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Sarah Feyerherm, the program will be accepting outside applicants who want to participate.

Last November, Washington College’s Peer Mentor program hosted a Play Day for children participating in Kent County’s Horizons Program. Horizons is a national enrichment program whose goal is to reduce the achievement gap between low-income students and students from middle- to high-income families.

The program joined forces with WC peer mentors when Feyerherm introduced senior Jesse Schaefer to Connie Schroth, the executive director of Horizons.

“One of our predecessors, Katelyn Malchester, thought that there should be a community service element to the Peer Mentor program,” said Schaefer. “That we shouldn’t just be an on-campus organization, but we should also place an emphasis on reaching out to the surrounding community. She couldn’t make it happen before she graduated. But she passed the project onto Ross Mills, Molly Anderson, and myself, and we promised to continue with it. So it’s really a success story of collaboration.”

Inspired by Malchester’s vision, Schaefer, Mills, and Anderson set out to plan a program for the Horizons students that would meet the program’s goal of educational enrichment.

“We invited the Horizons’ students to campus because we wanted to introduce them, not only to WC, but to college in general, so they could conceptualize of college as an option,” said Schaefer.

But they wanted the day to be fun as well, so Schaefer, Mills, and Anderson used the peer mentors’ talents to organize activities for the children.

“We met the Horizons’ kids in the LFC, gave them breakfast, and hosted a mini playfair. Then the students were given the option of attending two of six activities, led by the different peer mentors. The activity groups included dance, acting, basketball, arts and crafts, and juggling groups. Then, we culminated in Hynson Lounge for cookies and pizza and ended the day with a tour of campus,” said Schaefer.

Although Play Day was designed with kids in mind, Feyerherm said the experience was valuable for the peer mentors as well.

“It benefits both groups,” said Feyerherm. “For the peer mentors, it helps them utilize their skills with a different age group. It gave them a connection to the community they may not have had otherwise and for those who haven’t had the experience of working with small children before, I think when you work with that age group is when you learn the most. And the Horizons’ kids got to see and connect with a college student. Hopefully, that helps them start to see college as an option.”

Because last semester’s Play Day was so successful, Schaefer and Feyerherm both hope that it will become a bi-annual tradition. The Peer Mentor program is planning to host the second Play Day this spring, with a tentative date set for April.

“I think we were able to serve as positive role models for the kids and help make college life not so intimidating. Although we are adults, I don’t think they see us in quite the same light as they do other adults. We’re young, so they relate a little more to us. We’re really at the perfect age to reach out to these kids and serve as role models,” said Schaefer.

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