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Fallon Middle School Mentoring Program Creates Bonds and Confidence

May 2, 2018

DUBLIN, CA–For some sixth graders, the shift from primary to secondary education can be a significant challenge. Gone are the days of remaining in one classroom with one teacher. The new middle school reality offers a six-period day followed by an academic preparation period. Many students adjust well to this new schedule and some find it to be a challenge.

After many years of serving as the solitary counselor at Valley High School, Liz Buckley was installed as a sixth-grade counselor at Fallon Middle School last fall. She, too was making an adjustment. Upon receiving the first quarter report for her grade level, she identified a collection of students that were struggling in either single or multiple subjects. Ms. Buckley could tap into support techniques that she had previously employed. Or, she could leverage the fact that she had access to a group of highly motivated and successful students already housed on the Fallon campus. Thus, the Mustang Mentors program was born.

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What made sense to Liz was to reach out to American History and English teacher Terri Sharbach. Terri also serves as the Advisor to the California Junior Scholarship Federation (CJSF) chapter at Fallon. Ms. Sharbach the offered to collaborate with eighth grader Anjali Pajjuri who is currently serving as the club president. The meeting of the minds immediately hatched an idea to provide 10 CJSF members to serve as mentors to some of these sixth graders during the AP period. The idea was to start slowly and to mentor only in the subjects that would benefit from additional support. Parents of the mentees were notified in advance and the support was provided in an open setting.

The program quickly gained traction and the number of active mentors expanded to beyond 30 eighth graders that supported an equal amount of sixth graders. To gain additional understanding of Mustang Mentors, we sat down with CJSF President Anjali Pajjuri. Since the Mustang Mentors was a new program, how did you go about recruiting the initial set of mentors?

Anjali Pajjuri: “Initially, I sent out an email to all of the 8th graders in CJSF that included a brief description of the program along with a short application to submit. I immediately received several responses along with high enthusiasm from a select group of CJSF members. I continually reminded 8th graders to sign up at CJSF All-Member Meetings and rewarded those who did with CJSF active member points. As the program continued to grow, our advisor, Mrs. Sharbach, kept an eye out for promising mentors to recruit.” Now that we are nearing the end of the school year, please share some feedback that you’ve received from some of the 6th graders.

Pajjuri: “The emotional and academic changes within these 6th graders have been apparent in every single student. Some parents email Ms. Buckley saying that they are witnessing the growth of “a whole new child.” Others say that they’re thankful that their child has gained an ally, not just from the mentor relationship, but also from the relationships they’ve formed with their fellow 6th graders in the program. Personally, I think seeing improving grades has boosted the self-confidence of many of the formerly struggling students, and, in effect, has made the experience of being a mentor far more rewarding.” To be eligible for CJSF, one needs to maintain high grades. However, how has serving as a mentor enhanced your eighth-grade experience at Fallon

Pajjuri: “As an eighth grader at Fallon, my interaction with 6th graders had(formerly) been limited. The only time that I was able to meet with them had been through extracurricular activities, such as theater or volleyball. After becoming a mentor, however, I could connect with students that I wouldn’t have met with otherwise. There wasn’t so much as a social gap between our grades, and I was able to truly appreciate how mature and kind some of the students attending our school really are. It was interesting as someone who is almost finished with their middle school years to relive the sixth-grade experience. Through meeting personally with these students and being a mentor myself, I’ve learned to never judge based on first-hand impressions; there’s always another side to someone’s story.” As a student that is promoting up to high school, what advice would you offer to the current 7th graders that may follow in your footsteps as a mentor?

Pajjuri: “Always remember that this is not just limited to a tutoring job. Signing up for the mentoring program means that you must be prepared to be not just a tutor, but also a friend, morale booster, and confidante. Remember to be patient with students, as some have individual reasons for their disadvantages. Tackle problems with an open-minded heart and be willing to change. You’ll be surprised by the things you learn when helping others, both about yourself and the world.”

In another example of inventive thinking, we were pleased to learn about the Mustang Mentors. would like to thank both Liz Buckley and Anjali Pajjuri for their insights into this highly practical and empowering program.

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  1. Lorie Strelo permalink
    May 2, 2018 8:35 am

    Liz is a passionate, caring, thoughtful human being. As a counselor, she is committed to the students. She cares about the whole person. She has an uncanny ability to draw people in and set up networks that support and nurture the students.

    I’ve seen students return to her years after graduation. Sometimes to share successes and sometimes seeking help. They are always welcome. Her door is always open.

    Thank you Michael for recognizing Liz. She is an amazing person and I feel so lucky to call her friend.

  2. Terri Sharbach permalink
    May 2, 2018 12:44 pm

    Thank you LIz, for creating this much-needed program at Fallon.
    There is a lot of talk about helping students but you are actually taking action and for that I am grateful. Hopefully, there is enough support to continue this amazing program.

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