5 Principles Only a Mentor at School Can Teach Your Kid

Success in school means more than academics at Aim High School. Developing character and integrity from a mentor at school sets this education apart.

The typical middle or high school experience produces a graduate who knows math, science, history and reading to a certain standard. The exceptional experience produces a citizen of character and integrity. But these traits can’t be taught and tested — they’re learned through a relationship with a caring mentor at school. And this is an experience that every student deserves.

Students today learn that having emotions is normal and natural, yet some struggle with that next step of managing those feelings, says Michael Earls, Head of School at Aim High School, a tuition-based private school for students in grades six to 12 in Farmington Hills.

“This generation of students is told to connect with their feelings and that’s fine. The point is these feelings are natural,” Earls agrees. “But they also have to think about the way they process their emotions, especially long term. Many of our kids struggle with impulse control and the work we do is to help them make better choices.”

The combination of underdeveloped impulse control and social skills in addition to learning challenges and an overwhelming school environment can cause kids to feel isolated and unsupported. What they really need is a strong relationship with a mentor at school who provides trust and consistency.

What a student learns from a mentor at school

In most schools, mentorship is difficult to achieve, especially if no formal mentorship program exists or if the school is not designed to support these relationships.

At Aim High School, classes are small (no more than 8) which enables teachers to interact one-on-one with students daily. Students also have the same teachers through their school experience so relationships can grow and become a stabilizing force for students. In addition, teachers are matched with students to serve as advisors. Advisors serve as sounding boards, special liaisons with parents, and emotional, social and academic guides.

As students progress toward their senior year, the mentorship model at Aim High School homes in on the values most important after high school, including how to think like and function like an independent adult. “Over my years of working with young people and studying history and philosophy, I believe there are five foundational skills key to starting adulthood with integrity and character–these are what I center on with our seniors:”

Aim High School Principles

1. Self-control. “This is related to impulse control and managing emotions,” says Earls, adding that learning self-control helps students maintain sight of their larger goals, even when they are angry or hurt and want to lash out. “Without self-control, you won’t accomplish what you should.”

2. Perseverance. Not many kids naturally have the grit it takes to work through hard things. Conversations with mentors at Aim High help students learn how to work and live in adversity and build resilience.

3. Gratitude. “Teens often don’t feel grateful for the opportunities they have and for those who are trying to help them,” Earls says, adding that practicing gratitude means a student can focus on something outside of themselves.

4. Belief. Earls says, “Our kids come to us with low self-worth. When our students believe they can achieve something — and experience even small successful moments, they feel hopeful. We encourage them to think about what they want and picture themselves doing it. Work is part of that, a lot of hard work.”

5. Forgiveness. This is an especially important principle for students who, before joining Aim High, struggled to build trust and positive relationships with teachers and peers. By letting go, Earls explains, they free themselves of negativity and open themselves to positive relationships. “You have to be able to forgive people who have wronged you or hurt you in some way,” he says. “Then you open yourself up to a positive relationship, maybe with that person or with other people. The longer you hold a grudge or stay mad, the longer you carry around resentment that soaks up your bandwidth. This includes forgiving yourself and being OK with who you are.”

Mentorship principles apply to younger children, too

The principles that Aim High teachers and staff build through mentor relationships apply to middle school students, too.

“From my experience, I don’t think it’s ever a bad time to tell someone to think about their choices,” Earls says. “If a student is shutting down and not cooperating or when they are feeling negative about themselves or frustrated in their classes, the key is to help them understand that they have the power of choice. They can choose to be mad, or they can choose to make change. It all starts with learning self-control.

Mentoring at Aim High School
Photo credit: Aim High School

Practicing forgiveness is really important for our younger students who can get caught up in a cycle of thoughts and behaviors, says Kelly Fitzsimmons, Director of Administration and Advancement. “When they have breakdowns because they can’t forgive a social interaction that was uncomfortable to them, they might overreact and embarrass themselves, and then they can’t forgive themselves,” she says. “It’s important for younger students to develop the ability to see things from different perspectives and give others and themselves grace when mistakes happen.”

How students internalize these relationship skills

There’s a marked difference between students who just arrived at Aim High School and those who have been engaged in mentoring relationships with Aim High teachers for a year, say Earls and Fitzsimmons.

“They achieve work as a team member and have long-term goals. These principles are traits every young person should work on,” Earls says. “Teachers work with their students on these principles in the day-to-day. They might not be in a crisis moment, but by giving them these messages in the way they relate to the students, the students then use these skills in the way they relate to each other, in class, at lunch and in afterschool clubs.”

Support beyond the classroom

Often, parents wonder how to guide their children, especially when their child’s behavior is challenging. Aim High School staff works with parents to develop strategies for managing behaviors because the link between what happens at school and what happens at home is crucial for student growth.

Parents come to Aim High exhausted from fighting for accommodations at a school, feeling unsupported by their previous schools, and are frequently worried about their child because they have few (or no) friends or positive relationships.

“Because their kids have struggled and our parents have been constantly battling on behalf of their child, they sometimes lose track of the fact that their student is also accountable,” Earls says. “That’s something we spend a lot of time talking to parents about. We build a great relationship and work with them creating continuity between school and home. It’s valuable for our students to learn that what you do in one part of your life impacts the rest — positively or negatively.”

How does Aim High School know kids need mentorship?

Because of its small size and tight community, students are never unknown to their teachers or to the staff at Aim High — and for many kids who join the school, this is the first time they feel seen and heard.

“Unlike most schools where you have one teacher this semester and a different teacher next semester, our English and math teachers may be with a student for four years and they really get to know them,” Earls says.

Mike and a student on Aim High School
Photo credit: Aim High School

And even if they can’t express it in those terms, this is what Aim High students need.

“On their application when students are thinking about enrolling, we ask one question about what they would like to have. Overwhelmingly, they say they want to have a teacher they feel good with,” Fitzsimmons says. “Maybe they had one good experience and have been searching for it ever since, but some have never had it.”

Learn more about Aim High School. Visit aimhighschool.com.

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