by Clement Doucette
Climbing the steep, difficult path up Mount Wachusett proved to be more challenging than any of us had anticipated. My senior mentor, Bruno, led me and my eighth grade friends up the mountain. As new high schoolers, we were inspired by the accomplishments of our senior mentors; we heard their stories of college applications and fond high school memories.
Now, as a senior, I see a startling disconnect between the upperclassmen and the eighth graders. Generally, the two groups are isolated from one another, rarely communicate, and as a result, the eighth graders tend to be the subject of generalizations by the upperclassmen.
“There’s a lot of [eighth graders] that are really intelligent and nice,” said eighth grader Alessa Maiuri. “However, they still get the title of the ‘eighth graders’ and are overall a generally despised grade.”
The geography of HHS only exacerbates this growing problem, since it relegates eighth graders to their own section of the high school. The program of studies prevents underclassmen from enrolling in many of the same elective classes as upperclassmen. Consequently, many older students are unaware of the accomplishments and talents of younger students. These two groups can only interact through after school clubs and activities, or through team-building exercises such as the ones held during my eighth grade year.
“I think some of the upperclassmen don’t classify [the eighth graders] as being part of the high school, even though they sort of are,” said Maiuri.
Of course, not all seniors view the eighth graders in this way. Clubs such as HUD-TV have been successful in connecting students from different grades. Still, these benefits are not extended to all students, as only a fraction are members of these clubs.
Wellness teacher Dee Grassey taught at Hudson High School during the mentor program’s heyday. She noted that the mentor program acted as an important bridge between upper and lower grades and supports its return.
“I know they’re coming from a middle school to a high school, which is difficult,” said Grassey. “Of course, puberty is a big issue, which has to do with their maturity. I know that those are all factors, and I do think that they need a big brother or sister.”
Although the mentoring program would make the rough transition between middle and high school easier, it requires dedication and input from the seniors.
“The problem with senior mentoring is that seniors have a lot on their plate,” said Grassey. “What I’ve seen consistently is a problem with keeping it up throughout the year. It’s that commitment. The program starts off really great, but by this time of the year, it’s gone.”
Commitment is a problem within any extracurricular activity. Without a system to hold members accountable, students that are not passionate either lose interest or drop out of the program. Others become bogged down with coursework and other extracurriculars. Senior Ariana Jordan-MacArthur expressed these concerns.
“I just remember it being a really, really fun trip,” said Jordan-MacArthur. “However, I don’t remember being all that connected with my senior buddy. I mostly just remember having fun with my friends. I do know that the buddies were there; they were just not really that interactive.”
Despite these issues, Jordan-MacArthur wants to see the program return. “I would love for [mentors] to come back, and I would love to be [one], too. I know that our class is very spirited and likes to involve everybody, so I think that if we did bring that back, we would have a lot of people who would be willing to be mentors for the eighth graders.”
Still, any interaction between senior mentors and eighth graders is better than none. Giving attention to the school’s youngest students could make them feel accepted in the school community.
“With every class, you have that core group that need more help or guidance. Children sometimes learn more from other children than they do from adults,” said Grassey. “That’s why I think mentoring programs are so important.”
Despite the efforts of staff members, students must build those connections between the grades. These connections need to be natural and unforced. Bringing back the mentoring program could build these valuable connections that both eighth graders and seniors desire.
“You can hold meetings and think up great ideas,” said Grassey. “However, if the students don’t follow up with it, there’s nothing one person or an advisor alone can do.”
Although the program needs to have some degree of structure, providing interested seniors and eighth graders with an interest survey could pair like-minded students. Having an eighth grade mentee or a senior mentor with similar interests would make these students more willing to talk and to continue the program.
When I participated, my mentor and I did not share much common ground, and as a result, I did not learn as much from him as I could have. The keys to a successful mentoring program are natural conversations, shared interests, and meaningful dialogue.