Junior and Senior representatives adapt to new program changes

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ZOE BROOKS/SAGAMORE STAFF

Junior Mentors and Senior Mentors and their programs have had to adapt to the changes provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mentoring programs for juniors and seniors at the high school have undergone many changes in recent years.

Prior to the 2019-2020 school year, Junior Mentors and Senior Mentors were selected upperclassmen who served as helpers in freshman and sophomore advisories respectively, giving announcements and providing guidance to underclassmen. As a result of the separate freshman campus at Old Lincoln School (OLS) and a new system of advisory lessons, both the Junior and Senior Mentor programs have been modified to adapt to current circumstances.

Beginning last year, Senior Mentors were still present in sophomore advisories, and the Junior Mentor program was altered. This led to the formation of Junior Representatives, also known as Junior Reps.

In the past, Junior Mentors would greet incoming freshmen during freshman orientation and attend every advisory throughout the year. According to advisory co-coordinator Emily McGinnis, the change to the program coincided with having a separate freshman campus, as juniors would no longer have the ability to attend freshman advisories (also known as HUB).

“We gave the program a new name and a new role. Junior Reps still welcomed the ninth graders and attended their very first HUBs to support them. But the Junior Reps weren’t really doing much more beyond that,” McGinnis said.

According to Junior Rep Phylicia Robinson, the changes to the program have created a more distant connection between Junior Reps and current freshmen.

“It’s definitely harder to make connections with the freshmen and build relationships with them. We can’t really make sure they have the help they need because we haven’t been in contact since the first day,” Robinson said.

Current Junior Reps recall their positive experiences of mentorship when they were freshmen. Junior Isis Contreras expressed her eagerness to be more involved in helping the current freshman feel welcomed.

“I want to be as involved as my Junior Reps were when I was a freshman,” Contreras said. “If you can’t socialize with the other grades the way we did when we were freshmen, you’re missing out on something essential to the high school experience.”

This year, a new ‘Senior Keeper’ program was introduced, replacing Senior Mentors. McGinnis said the program builds upon the HUB system that was implemented in freshman advisories last year, which revolves around the restorative justice system.

“The basic format is that everyone is invited to respond to a prompt, but you can always pass. The prompts have varying levels of depth. Sometimes they are silly or light, and sometimes they are deeper,” McGinnis said.

McGinnis said Senior Keepers also provide context and facilitation.

“The role of the senior keeper is to introduce the prompt and also to hold the experience for everyone, responding when appropriate,” McGinnis said.

Through an extensive application process, one senior keeper was selected for each sophomore advisory and trained over Zoom this past summer by staff from the Suffolk University Center for Restorative Justice.

According to seniors Cecelia Wilson and Jake Perdue, they had no previous knowledge regarding restorative justice prior to becoming a senior keeper. They have since learned about its importance, especially in the justice systems of Indigenous communities.

“We want to promote restorative justice in the circle. What I mean by that is when there is a problem we want to look at how we can help out each other, instead of looking at how we should punish them. It really promotes who humans are and who we are supposed to be,” Perdue said. “Our job is to make sure that the sophomores feel comfortable contributing to the circle at all times.”

Having an upperclassman present in HUB is also a new feature of the current sophomore advisories. The goal is to foster a relationship different from what was found in HUB during their freshman year.

“I’d like to think that it’s nice to have someone to look up to or just go to for advice for, maybe just make the upperclassmen look less scary. me look more like a friend than a scary senior who’s about to go to college,” Wilson said.

According to Perdue, some students are still hesitant to share out during the restorative justice circle.

“Students are always going to be uncomfortable sharing, which is totally reasonable, but my goal is to make sure that kids feel comfortable sharing these personal stories,” Perdue said. “It’s really tough, but I’m really confident in them.”

Regardless of the challenges, McGinnis said that senior keepers are becoming more comfortable serving as role models and are providing added benefits to sophomore HUBs.

“We want to be able to create a program that does have at its heart the well being of students and the connections between students. That’s what we’re always trying to foster, the feeling of acceptance and belonging. It takes work and it takes time, but it’s really important to us, McGinnis said. “The senior keepers bring so much with their passion, enthusiasm and leadership. We’re really trying to make a program that people feel is worth their time.”