G.R.E.A.T. mentors encourage students to improve their schools

April 5, 2011 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated April 4, 2011 at 11:05 p.m.

On Tuesday morning at Trinity Episcopal Middle School, 15 seventh-graders were bouncing ideas off of each other with one end goal: making their school a G.R.E.A.T. place.

"At Trinity, we all believe that we all are family," 13-year-old Morgan Schmidt said just before the class bell rang.

And since January, the students and their teacher, Deena Sartor, have invited Victoria County Sheriff's Office deputies and St. Joseph High School mentors into their family.

The members teamed up as part of the sheriff office's Gang Resistance Education and Training's mentor program, which sends high school students to teach seventh-graders lessons from the nationwide program's curriculum.

"To hear it from a peer is more impactful than anything we can say," said Deputy Kenneth Wells.

Megan Joy, one of the mentors, graduated from Trinity Episcopal Middle School and said the opportunity to make a difference there has been, pun not intended, great.

"Whenever I was in seventh grade, we didn't have this," she said. "It's really great to see how they're impacted by it ... they just enjoy what they're learning about."

The kids that day were presenting their ideas for how to make their school a place that furthers the G.R.E.A.T. program's focus on positive relationships and avoiding delinquent behavior.

Morgan was advocating for a school mascot.

"I think it's important because mascots bring school spirit," she said. "It gives you courage and a good feeling. It also gets you more positive."

Meanwhile, 13-year-old Alex Sandmann told her peers she thought year-round art classes would improve the atmosphere at their school.

"It opens learning opportunities and helps students to think outside the box in a creative way," Alex said. "Nobody has the same way of looking at things, and art brings that out."

Alex mentioned Picasso's "Blue Period" and said art is a safe way to express emotions.

"(G.R.E.A.T.) taught us that some people turn to drugs or alcohol when they're upset. But people who turn to art would be successful," she said.

Halfway through the presentations, Megan jumped into a discussion about study halls. Students asked her about high school, and their mentor advised them not to be scared of going to the new school like she was almost four years ago.

"It's so awesome to me that they will get a little bit of insight into what it's like," Megan said.

Megan admitted to having always been shy, but her confidence and ability to connect with the kids shined in front of the class.

"This also helps (mentors) get into public speaking," Wells said.

Plus, there's that snack bar the students got, thanks to the G.R.E.A.T. program.

The snack bar was an idea presented by a student in last year's class, which was heard and acted on by administration.

"That's the whole premise of it," Wells said. "What can you come up with to make your school better that will actually stick?"



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