By Mia LoBosco
During these uncertain times of COVID-19, different student mentor programs at MIHS, such as Best Buddies, Snail Pals and LINK Crew, are finding their own ways to continue online and help students in need.
As the pandemic began, it forced daily activities online, including these student mentor programs. Despite this new obstacle, however, they have adapted to this format to continue helping students adjust and thrive in high school.
Best Buddies, a program that focuses on helping students with disabilities make new friends, had been holding in-person meetings to strengthen friendships between students before COVID-19. Now, the program is figuring out how to keep developing these relationships online.
Best Buddies holds weekly Zoom meetings where members can chat with each other, play games and participate in inclusive activities. These meetings help everyone come together and feel included while staying at home.
“I think that it is really important that [people with disabilities] still have social interactions and know that there are people always thinking about them,” said Kelly Cotter, Best Buddies chapter president.
Best Buddies finds it more challenging to connect with students online than in person. The amount of activities the program can do to interact with students is limited.
“Everyone wants to do a different thing and everyone wants to talk at once,” Cotter said.
However, online, these busy conversations are challenging – on Zoom only one participant can be heard at a time. During the Zoom meetings, students sometimes find it difficult to share all of their ideas and agree on an activity.
Best Buddies also creates a different activity each week to keep students engaged. So far, they have tried virtual Mad Libs, scavenger hunts and dance parties.
“Every week we are coming up with new ideas that we have never tried before,” Cotter said.
Snail Pals, a program created last year, aims to let upperclassmen help underclassmen succeed in high school. In the past, the program has developed one-on-one relationships in person so underclassmen can have a mentor to guide them through high school. Snail Pals is currently working to continue these relationships online, and develop new pairings for incoming students.
“Right now we are in contact with the administration trying to formulate a strategic plan as to how to reach as many people as possible,” Snail Pals officer Will Atkinson said.
Snail Pals is going to broadcast videos on social media to make their program more well known, and keep in contact with students virtually through online messaging and phone calls.
Snail Pals is also addressing the difficulties of students developing relationships with their mentors online.
“It is a lot harder to feel comfortable opening up with someone when you are not even in close proximity to them,” Atkinson said.
Snail Pals is working to make these connections between underclassmen and their mentors easier so they can have the best experience with the program.
In addition, Snail Pals is specifically helping incoming freshmen who are making the transition from middle school to high school online.
“This year is probably the most difficult year to be a freshman, so one of our primary goals is to assist that transition,” Atkinson said.
This year’s freshmen won’t be able to connect with their teachers or counselors in person, so Snail Pals is working to provide a way for them to have an additional person to guide them through their transition to high school.
“Community and comfort in any new manner is always done through support, guidance, advice, feeling like you have someone to go to,” Atkinson said.
LINK crew, a school-sponsored group, provides freshmen with in-person activities led by upperclassmen on the first day of school and throughout the year. The program is currently figuring out how to hold these activities online.
“This year we have created a welcome video where senior LINK leaders shared their insights while giving a tour around the school,” LINK crew officer Kati McConn said. LINK crew is also thinking about holding in-person small group tours when it is safe.
Additionally, LINK crew is addressing the disadvantages this year’s freshmen have with starting high school online.
“A lot of MIHS culture has to do with being together and being in the building,” McConn said. Many students have friends and family that have all gone to MIHS, and when school starts they get to be present in the community.
“There is always a sense of excitement for them as they get to experience what so many have experienced before them,” McConn said.
Now that school is online, the incoming freshmen don’t get to experience the start of high school in the same way. LINK crew is working to give them the best online experience possible.
Even with all the chaos to begin this school year, these programs have successfully come together to provide comfort for many students on Mercer Island, even with the challenges presented by COVID-19.