It’s Orientation Day as I write this article, and I have just had the pleasure of spending the day with a number of bright, energetic young men who are about to join our community.
There were many highlights of the day for them – the built rockets in Science, they ran around the school in an Amazing Race, and they made keychains in Design Tech using saws and files… their minds and bodies were fully engaged.
But interestingly one of the stand out experiences for them is simply a chance to connect with the older boys.
We only had Years 10 and 11 on campus today – but the older boys ran activities for them in Mentor Period to help get to know them and welcome them into the House, and also ran games with them at lunchtime.
We know how important connection is for all of us – especially since COVID. It is also one of the five daily habits of the Wellbeing Hive – which means it is something we need to feel and experience continually. And Mentoring is a very specific form of connection – especially in schools. Mentoring programs in schools allow young students to connect with an older peer – who acts as a guide and role model for them. This happens both formally in peer mentoring sessions, and informally in our vertical house system across the senior schools, whereby mentor groups are made up of students across Years 7 – 12.
When younger and older students interact regularly, research shows that bullying declines and feelings of safety and belonging increase. Our classes offer plenty of opportunities to interact with same-age peers – but forming valuable bonds with older students really increases the confidence of the younger man, who is able to feel he has someone to call upon when needed, and that he is a known quantity to older boys who will embrace him.
And the positive impact is not only for the peer mentee – it is always beautiful to see how much a young man will rise to the occasion if he is asked to help guide a younger person. Their empathy is immediately stimulated and they remember their own experiences of being their age – whether these are warm and connected recollections, or whether they realise how much they too would have benefitted from this kind of relationship.
And while all of this also rings true for girls, it is ESPECIALLY true for boys. Young men are very social creatures, and the high levels of pressure they feel to adhere to a masculine ideal can lead to poor decision making and low self-esteem. A peer mentor who models being themselves, and can appreciate the unique personality and talents of the younger peer mentee can assist them to resist pressure to behave in the kinds of ways that often dominate the media commentary of boys schools and choose instead to embrace opportunities to be themselves.
For this reason, at Berwick Grammar we also invest in a Mentor for out older students. Recently, Glenn Manton came out to speak with our Year 12 Class of 2021, and in his honesty, vulnerabilty and his reflection on his own journey to manhood: the challenges, the mistakes and the realisations, he too does that modelling of grappling with societal expectations and allows them to see a pathway to be true to themselves. And isn’t this what we want for all our young men?
It’s clear that Peer Mentoring – in any school but perhaps especially for boys schools, is a program worthy of deep investment and reflection. How best do we encourage older boys to be warm, giving and vulnerable in this? And how do we ensure young people know to appreciate these qualities? Well, part of it is culture. The stories we tell each other. And I firmly believe stories are a form of mentoring too.
If you want to know more about the stories we share at Berwick Grammar, come and visit one of our assemblies and see how students and teachers model mentoring, new ideas about masculinity and a deep affinity for their school and for each other.