Student mentors making a difference at area middle schools

January 9, 2015

Student mentors making a difference; High Five 4 College

Lauren Lange is getting as much out of High Five 4 College as she is putting into it. Working as a mentor to area middle school students in the Department of Public Instruction (DPI)-sponsored program, the UW-Marathon County sophomore is using the experience to prepare for her career.

“I want to be a teacher,” says Lange, who graduated from Wausau East High School in 2013. “I’m getting a lot of hands-on experience. I’m learning how to work with large groups of kids at one time.”

During the fall semester, Lange and seven other UWMC student-mentors put in more than 380 hours while working with more than 230 students from the four public middle schools in the Wausau and D.C. Everest school districts. Their positions are made possible through DPI funding, UWMC’s work-study program and support from the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) and UWMC Continuing Education, both headquartered on the UWMC campus.

Promotes college as an option

Now in its fourth year, High Five 4 College is an after-school program designed to excite middle school students from low-income families about the possibility of attending college by exposing them to a variety of potential careers. It also develops their leadership and teamwork skills by having them participate in games and other structured activities.

“The main purpose of the program is to inspire these students, letting them know that college is an option for them,” explains Kathy Drury, an education specialist with DPI.

“Many of our students come from first-generation (U.S.) families,” she says. “Sometimes there are obstacles for them to overcome to attend college, including understanding how financial aid works. However, lack of confidence is their biggest obstacle.”

In addition to coordinating after-school learning activities and escorting students on field trips to local businesses, municipal agencies and colleges, the UWMC students serve as role models to the younger students.

“The UWMC mentors are a crucial element of the program,” says Drury. “We probably couldn’t exist without them. It’s important for these kids to be with and around actual college students. It makes the experience richer and more meaningful.”

Monthly learning and career themes

Each month of the High Five 4 College program, which will continue through the spring semester, focuses on a different learning theme and career field, says Leo Moua, one of two part-time employees hired by DPI to coordinate the program. Moua also works as a research assistant for WIPPS.

Students visiting Wausau's hydroelectric dam.In November the students explored the computer industry and made their own You Tube videos. In December they studied engineering and participated in a variety of activities, including a team-building game called “Airplane Blitz” and a raw egg drop, a popular lesson led by UWMC associate professor of engineering Mark Holdhusen. They also toured the Wausau Engineering and Global Leadership Academy and the city’s hydroelectric dam. In mid-January they will participate in “Think College Days” hosted by UWMC, and in April they will tour the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.

“It’s all about supporting student success in school,” says Moua, who has a bachelor’s degree in public administration from UW-Green Bay and chooses the program’s monthly topics and creates related lesson plans. “We help develop students’ leadership skills, and help with lessons that encourage college awareness.”

Moua says being a mentor in the High Five 4 College program is an excellent way for UWMC students to discover if teaching is a profession they’d like to pursue as a career. “We’re always looking for students who have an interest in getting an education degree or have an interest in early childhood development. Being a mentor is a great way to support those majors.”

Lange couldn’t agree more. “It’s been a great experience. I really love the kids,” she says. “They have a lot of high energy. Plus, on a big scale, I think I have (had an influence on the students). I’m someone they can look up to who is closer to their age. Someone who can answer their questions and help them understand what college is all about.”

Note: High Five 4 College will be hiring two more mentors for the spring 2015 semester. To apply or for more information, contact Leo Moua at lmoua@wausauschools.org or 920-327-0520.