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Reuniting with Your Middle School Student

 In Across the Country, All About Kids, Ideas for mentoring

Kids Hope USA NEXT is Kids Hope USA’s middle school initiative that allows existing mentoring relationships to move into Middle School. For years, the organization didn’t have a structured way to offer programs to move from elementary to middle school with their student – yet many mentor-student pairs didn’t want to stop meeting when the student graduated 5th grade.

The middle school “mentoring hour” looks very different from the traditional elementary mentoring meeting – primarily because middle school students are not allowed to leave during class time. This means that the majority of students that meet with their Kids Hope USA mentors in middle school meet over the half hour lunch period.

It’s less structured and requires a good amount of flexibility from the Kids Hope USA mentor – but can be a crucial and valuable time for the student as they move through the transitionary years of middle school.

If you are starting the year with a middle schooler through Kids Hope USA NEXT, here are three tips to keep in mind:

1) If your student doesn’t want to meet on a given day – that’s okay.

Many middle school mentors find that at the beginning of 6th grade or even into the first few years, their presence is very needed an much appreciated. It’s a time where kids are dealing with understanding identity, friendships, increased independence – and yes, even puberty.

Because of all the change that floods their world each day, their mentor arriving as a constant is often very needed. However, as students grow and become more confident in their new school routine or value their free time with friends more, you may find that they don’t want to meet on certain days, or may even mention that you don’t need to come to see them at all.

If this happens, resist the urge to take it personally or feel rejected – instead, see it as a sign that your student is growing up and that you have helped them feel confident and independent. 

Let your student know that you are always there for them, and provide a means to contact you if they ever need to talk. Or consider an alternative meeting schedule – if once a week seems like too much, ask if perhaps once a month would make more sense to your student. It’s all about serving your students needs!

2) Don’t stress about the academics.

Kids Hope USA has always been, first and foremost, a mentoring program. Not a tutoring program. However, in elementary school, mentors often spend a lot of time on academic work. As you move into middle school, you may find that you just don’t have time to spend on academics or homework.

Don’t stress if your student wants to spend more time talking about friends, teachers and their class schedule than they do working through their math homework.

Serving your student through listening and responding appropriately is the best gift you can give to a middle schooler. If you remember anything about your own middle school years (most of us like to bury those memories in the back of our brains! Did anyone escape those awkward moments?) you will remember how much mental capacity you spent worrying about being accepted by others, understanding your own identity, growing into a more demanding class schedule and dealing with the transitionary period from child to teenager.

One of the best things that you probably had or could have had then was a friend or adult to confide in and share all of those worries and fears. Be a safe place for your student, encourage and support them just like you did in elementary school – and be flexible when it comes to the academic side of things.

3) Be prepared for the tough questions and conversations.

With middle school comes the mesh of transitioning elementary schoolers and new teenagers. This can intertwine very young students with a host of adult issues including having to say “no” to bad choices and influences as well as dealing with their own growing and changing bodies and minds.

Don’t feel like you have to be trained and equipped as their sex-education teacher or “Just Say No” educator, but do be prepared for questions that wouldn’t normally come from an elementary student.

This is where your Kids Hope USA Director is your best resource. They can prepare and equip you for the situations where you may feel like, “I did not sign up for this!”

Discuss with your Director how to direct questions that you may feel uncomfortable answering, and consider rehearsing answers to conversations that may come up about your student engaging in questionable behavior with their friends.

You are there to be a listening ear – and if you do encounter these questions or moments shared by your student, consider it a privilege that your student trusts you enough to communicate in that way. Yet for the safety and respect of you and your student, being prepared and having your Director by your side can only benefit you and your student.

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