by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Mentors and coordinators with Miller Mentoring at Winona Senior High School (WSHS) and Winona Middle School strive to support students socially, emotionally and academically each day. One coordinator was recently honored for her work with the mentoring program.
Miller Mentoring WSHS Program Coordinator Kathy Welch was recently awarded hall of fame status with the Youth Intervention Programs Association. Since 1999, just 86 people who work with students have achieved this status.
Welch has been with Miller Mentoring for eight years, and this year is her 18th with the district. She worked as an educational assistant before she started with Miller Mentoring.
Welch’s family had two businesses as she grew up, and she said these enterprises taught her about serving people well. Her mother’s work as a counselor and a therapist also influenced her. “It was such a natural fit for me to want to help someone, give them what they needed, provide resources, be a listening ear and do that automatically,” Welch said. “It doesn’t feel like work to me.”
Miller Mentoring, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, forges connections between students and mentors to provide academic, social and emotional support for students. “What we know about relationships is that even one strong relationship with an adult makes a difference in a young person’s life,” Welch said. “And that’s why we feel it’s really important to provide that to the students in our program.”
About 50 students and 40 mentors take part in the program at the high school, and around 40 students and 30 mentors participate in the program at the middle school. Mentoring is held after school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A team of coordinators and a director oversee the program.
The program offers students a space at school to come to during the day for assistance as well, Welch shared. “It’s a network of support,” she said. “We may be interacting with a student’s teachers and their parents and their case worker and the administration.”
Ashley Roetter, a junior at WSHS who takes part in Miller Mentoring, said she typically attends mentoring at least twice a week, and during mentoring, she normally does her homework and talks with her friends. “Everybody that works here and all the mentors are very understanding,” Roetter noted. “I feel like I belong here. I can come here if I’m having a rough time.”
Miller Mentoring WSHS Program Coordinator Stacy Cottrell explained that students and mentors are purposefully matched to maximize success for both groups.
As students near high school graduation, they receive help with planning for life after high school, Welch said, from assistance with completing college applications and searching for scholarships to support with budgeting. Cottrell added that students receive help with gaining interview skills, and Miller Mentoring Program Director Drew Althoff stated that if a student is not registered to vote but wishes to be, they could receive assistance with that process as well.
Welch said she feels mentors also benefit from connecting with students. A wide range of individuals from adult community members of various ages to Winona State University (WSU) students currently serve as mentors.
Natalie Dicke, who has been a mentor for almost a year and is a senior at WSU studying economics and accounting, said she feels mentoring has allowed her to gain a number of strong connections with students from the program and other mentors, and these relationships feel “like gaining another family.”
Miller Mentoring WSHS Program Coordinator Kim Hancock said she highly enjoys being part of Miller Mentoring. “It doesn’t come without its challenges, but I love the work that I do, and I love the challenge of meeting students where they’re at and trying to get them to a successful place, whether it’s socially, emotionally or academically,” Hancock stated.
Althoff shared that coordinators push themselves on a daily basis to gain more skills to help students.
Althoff has served as a mentor in the past, and he said being part of the program again as director makes him feel that he has come full circle. “I’m thankful I came in with connections to students already and glad that I feel a trust between a lot of students that I’ve known for some years,” Althoff stated.
Welch said Miller Mentoring can always use more mentors. “It doesn’t matter if you know how to do math or American history,” Welch shared. “It’s more a matter of, can you see someone in their life, in their element, and support them and listen and guide and care?”
Mentors must be at least 18 years old. Those interested in being a mentor must complete an application that asks for references; they must also undergo a background check. Those chosen to be mentors attend required training and dedicate one day each week during the academic year to mentoring.
Those interested in being a mentor may find the application online at https://www.winonaschools.org/wms/support-services/miller-mentoring.