Jaden Rydl has regrets every week when she walks into Gilbert Intermediate and meets with a fifth-grade girl who has become her friend. They smile. They laugh. They play games and tell stories. They confide in one another.
And Rydl, who is one of more than a dozen Gilbert High School students involved in the YSS School Based Mentoring Program, has regrets.
Why didn’t she do this sooner?
“I wish I would have gotten into it as a sophomore or junior,” Rydl, who will graduate in just a few months, said. “This is a chance to have an impact on a kid you never would have known before. Being a senior, you’re such a role model to younger kids and I feel like this is a chance to do it.”
January is National Mentoring Month, as all of us celebrate the positive influence mentors can have on our young students.
When Rydl signed up to become a mentor, she thought it would be a chance to be a good role model to her younger peers. And yet she now knows the impact she can make is far beyond what she initially thought.
“Going into it I thought this would be fun, but I didn’t realize how big of a role we could play,” she said. “You can tell they look forward to our meetings as well. She’s willing to be open and talk about stuff, and I’m glad I can be there for her.”
GHS junior Will Hawthorne, a first-year mentor as well, shares similar stories. He mentors a sixth-grade boy at Gilbert Middle School where he gets a weekly opportunity to make a noticeable difference in the life of a young student.
“It’s a great opportunity to rewind a couple of years and use what you know now to be a big buddy to someone,” Hawthorne said. “I remember when I was in middle school, I can remember mentors coming to school and they were like celebrities. It’s really interesting how, in the blink of an eye, it all switched. We go out and play at recess and all of the kids think I’m the coolest guy ever when, really, it feels like I was in their shoes just two weeks ago.”
Now in its 23rd year, the YSS School Based Mentoring Program remains impactful throughout the Gilbert CSD buildings. In her first year as the Gilbert Mentor Facilitator, Kristi Leyva says there are 30 mentors in the program and 60 members. And the program is always looking for new mentors, whether that’s high school students or leaders in the community who would like to make a difference in the life of a young student.
“It’s a neat experience because it’s outside of your every day experiences,” Leyva said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time and it really makes a huge impact.”
High school sophomores, juniors, and seniors can all sign up to be mentors, Leyva said.
“Mentors have to be at least 15 years of age,” she said. “You can be a mentee anywhere from kindergarten to eighth grade, and then freshman year, we consider that a gap year.”
Gilbert Schools’ Transportation Manager Trent Becker is one of the adults who serves as a mentor and he currently works with two students. Becker was initially a mentor nearly a decade ago and then picked back up this fall.
“I think research is pretty clear that kids who have two or three people they can count on, adult voices in their life, they tend to be more successful,” Becker said.
Becker’s weekly meetings with his mentees usually take place over their lunch period. They eat, they talk, they play games, and just have fun.
“Most people want to make a difference in the lives of other people and this is a very easy way to do that,” Becker said. “Every kid that I’ve talked to always thanks me for encouraging them to do it.”
Leyva says the program is always looking for new mentors. If you would like to find out more information about the program, enroll your child into the program, or sign up to become a mentor, head over to the YSS website HERE.