The sounds coming from Central School’s second floor vary from week to week in the summer months. This past Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — the weekdays when Miller Mentoring’s summer program is in session — have been filled with the sounds of hammers and power tools, little chicks chirping and children laughing. “It’s farm week,” explained Cindy Amberg, director of Miller Mentoring.
Photo by Amelia Wedemeyer
. Miller Mentoring coordinator Bea Salisbury helps Onnah Pomeroy and Makenna Scharmach build a table out of sticks.
Miller Mentoring’s summer program will start its seventh and final week this Tuesday, August 5, with students enjoying their last days canoeing and enjoying the outdoors before a final family fun event at Central School where parents and siblings will join in a small celebration. There, the Winona Area Public School (WAPS) students who have been involved in the summer program will be able to show their families all of the things they have done and experiences they have been a part of over the past weeks. “It has been phenomenal,” Amberg said.
The summer program is for any WAPS student who has been involved with Miller Mentoring throughout the school year. Unlike the school year Miller Mentoring program, the summer program does not have assigned mentors, but does include children working and interacting with program assistants and coordinators, as well as with each other. “We have a lot of fun and [work on] life skills,” Amberg explained, which is in contrast to the school year’s focus on homework and school-related issues. “[This summer] the kids have been able to experience things they might not have been able to before.”
Each week has its own theme with corresponding field trips and activities. For farm week, students were able to visit a sheep farm where they learned about wool and meat. “My favorite thing we’ve done so far has been visiting the sheep farm,” said Oren Montgomery, who will be going into seventh grade this year at Winona Middle School (WMS). “I’m a sheep fanatic.”
Previous weeks have included themes such as career week, where students were able to visit various occupations throughout the Winona community; cooking week, which involved creating a restaurant and corresponding menu; and an outdoor week filled with fishing and geocaching.
As part of the summer program, students are also treated to a healthy lunch, which sometimes includes vegetables they have grown as part of their weekly trips to the community garden. “I love the harvesting,” said Onnah Pomeroy, who will start sixth grade this fall at WMS. “It’s fun and I feel healthier eating it.”
Planting a seed to a better future
“I’ve had more fun here than I’ve had for the last 13 years of my life,” stated Makenna Scharmach, who will be an eighth-grader at WMS this year. “I’ve never actually been this happy.”
Scharmach is a big Batman fan, a self-proclaimed “Batman dork.” Before starting with Miller Mentoring she had trouble performing to her potential at school and sometimes felt alienated from her peers and teachers because of her choice of lip piercings and dyed auburn hair. Through Miller Mentoring she was able to gain friends who were able to give her good advice and support her. She has since flourished in school. “I got into advanced reading this year,” she said of her improvements. “I remember when I got the letter in the mail, I was like, ‘is this real?’”
For soon-to-be WMS seventh grade student Veronika Doyal, Miller Mentoring has helped with grades as well as with her personal character. “I had a horrible attitude, but it got better after coming here,” she said.
For Amberg and the rest of the Miller Mentoring staff, the main goal of the program is to help students from all backgrounds realize their potential not just academically, but also on an emotional and personal level. “We do have set criteria [for Miller Mentoring] — it’s the child who might fall through the cracks,” she explained. “It doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability; we all struggle. We just give them that extra motivation and support.”
Middle school students attend Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Central School, while high school students are at Winona Senior High School Monday through Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Last school year, Miller Mentoring served 115 WAPS students from grades five through 12 by pairing them with trained mentors. Most often, a lasting relationship is formed. “My mentor graduated [from college this year] but she gave me her address, email and cell phone number,” said Payton Borchart, a soon-to-be eighth grade student at WMS. “I send her stuff and she sends me stuff.”
Amberg is still touched by all the thank-you letters and well wishes she receives from former Miller Mentoring students over the course of the program’s 12 years. “I’m truly blessed with what I do,” she said.