On the sunny afternoon of Mar. 7, the Whitman Mentor Program hosted their annual Mentee to Campus Day carnival, taking over the Reid Campus center with ring tosses, bowling, a bouncy castle and a cotton candy machine. The carnival is an yearly celebration of the friendship built between Whitman student mentors and local elementary school students who share lunch and recess every week.
“Our Whitman students are rock stars who offer consistent, positive role modeling, making a difference in the lives of local children each week,” said Student Engagement Center Outreach Coordinator Susan Prudente in an email to the campus community.
The Whitman Mentor Program began in 1994 as a direct result of a senior psychology thesis done by Jamey Wolverton ’94. Wolverton was interested in how a mentor relationship would affect “at-risk” third, fourth, and fifth graders. His case study, though only a year long, paired 23 Whitman students with elementary school pupils at Berney Elementary School in Walla Walla, and found that – among those pupils – attendance increased and self-esteem improved significantly.
Since then, the program has only continued to grow. Currently, there are over 160 mentor pairs in eight Walla Walla public schools. Mentors visit once per week, when they eat lunch and play with their mentee during recess. The program puts on the Mentee to Campus Day annually to celebrate the connection between mentors and mentees, and to inspire young children to attend college like their mentors.
“This program would not be possible without the partnership with the Walla Walla Public Schools,” Prudente said. “They welcome Whitman students into their buildings Monday through Friday, every week of the academic year, so this is a two-way street.
“Our students show up, they have lunch with a K-5 student, and play with them at recess, much like you’re seeing here today. They are a consistent friend who, over the course of time, really makes a difference in that child’s social and emotional health.”
Studies have shown that young people who participate in mentoring relationships are more likely to attend college, place higher value on school, 50% more likely to come to class, 46% less likely to initiate drug use and 27% less like to drink illegally.
“I have mentored Reina all four years; she is a fifth grader, and I am a senior. Next year, she’s going to be going onto middle school, and I will graduate,” Whitman Mentor Student intern Cristela Delgado-Daniel ’14 said. “This day is the culmination of our whole year. Basically, for me, it’s the last time we really get to play together, so this day means a lot to me.”