Studies have shown that mentorship is good for everyone involved and that giving a little bit of time can mean massive benefits in return.
For 14-year-old Annabel McDowell, a Grade 8 student at Columbia Elementary School in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, 2017 was a very busy year.
She was a member of the Change Makers, a youth activism club that works with WE Schools resources, and she helped organize a school dance, an Olympics-style activity day, a school breakfast program and a Christmas lunch for her community. But her favourite parts of the year were her weekly 30-minute get-togethers with her Grade Three mentee.
Each of the Change Makers was paired with a "buddy" in a younger grade at the beginning of the year to help them improve certain social skills, such as communication and focus. Her buddy loved to move and had been having trouble sitting still in class. So, whenever Annabel met up with him, they would go for a walk around the school or up and down the stairs in the main building.
"We never really have the chance to communicate and be around the younger kids in the school," she says. "It was kinda nice to see that you could help make their day a little better."
Getting older kids to mentor their younger classmates can have massive benefits, for both the mentor and mentee. According to a 2013 study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada, young people with a mentor are much more interested in school and far less likely to display antisocial behaviours like skipping class, bullying, fighting or lying. In turn, mentors learn important life skills, such as communication, discipline and leadership.
Elora Lake, a Grade 8 teacher and the facilitator of the Change Makers club, had run a similar mentorship program in her former school and saw a big improvement in student performance. So, when she joined Columbia's staff last year, she started a similar club there.
"Seeing the relationships [between the students] grow has been really great, and we've had a lot of positive feedback from our staff about it being a really worthwhile opportunity for those kids," she said.
Elora suggests a few things to keep in mind when encouraging young people to become mentors:
1. Match personalities and interests
Take time to get to know both potential mentors and mentee, and pair those with similar backgrounds, interests and personalities. A mentee who loves animals would work great with a mentor who has lots of pets, for example.
2. Don't focus on academics
For many mentees, the classroom may be a place they associate with anxiety and struggle, so it's a good idea to have mentors focus on building a relationship with their mentee quite apart from schoolwork.
3. Keep it interactive
Mentors should pick activities that their mentees will find interesting or engaging, but keep the screen time to a minimum. Instead of watching TV or playing video games, encourage them to have conversations, draw, play cards or board games, or build something together.
4. Provide backup
Make sure both your mentors and mentees have someone they trust who they can talk to about their relationship. While mentoring can be deeply fulfilling, it can come with challenges, and even mentors need a mentor of their own.
For both Elora and Annabel, being part of a mentoring program has been well worth the time and the effort. "It's a good chance to put somebody else's needs before your own," says Elora.
Check out WE Stories for more inspirational stories about kids who are giving back.