The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Mentors ignite student success


October 27, 2019

Kevin Wilson

Clovis High students and teachers participate in a "Crossing the Line" session as part of the Ignite for Schools mentoring program Wednesday at the school.

CLOVIS - Konnor McNeil was dropped into Clovis High School last December, and it wasn't long before he found himself in the spring semester digging his way out of D's and F's.

And that's what made him an ideal mentor for this year's group of CHS sophomores.

McNeil is one of 120 various CHS juniors and seniors taking part in the Ignite for Schools mentoring program. Each mentor gets five sophomores to work with throughout the year. They were briefly introduced last spring when those sophomores were at the CHS Freshman Academy, and Wednesday was a kickoff day that included three assemblies and five breakout sessions.

Clovis High Principal Jay Brady said he had a meeting with Annetta Hadley, an instructional coach for the district, and they were at first looking for ways to increase overall literacy. Hadley and others brought forward Washington-based Ignite, which works with about 200 schools now and probably 1,000 over the last 20 years and first started mentorship programs in 2001.

About halfway into a phone conversation with Kris Menon of Ignite for Schools, Brady noticed they hadn't discussed any elements of literacy. Instead, the program makes the students more supportive and accountable to each other, and the rising tide of culture lifts all boats, including academics.

"It boosts leadership internally," Brady said. "You have teacher leaders, you have student leaders. That's what the program does."

Wednesday taught the sophomores the four key elements -behavior, individual stories, kindness and goals.

Hadley said it was important to get a cross-section of juniors and seniors rather than students known as the "blue birds" or "high flyers," because kids who have had problems and persevered tend to be more relatable as mentors.

Brady said one of his favorite mentors is a senior who fell far behind, but is determined to graduate with her class and has a school day that sometimes runs 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Though her story is far from the bell curve, Brady said many mentor lessons boil down to, "Don't do what I did."

Regarding McNeil, who experienced a culture change when his family moved from San Antonio and never had the benefits most sophomores get when they transition from CHS Freshman Academy to the main CHS campus. He slacked off, and got behind on his work. And now, he mentors five sophomores and makes sure they're not slacking off.

"We can relate with them more," McNeil said. "We've had some problems, but we want to teach you how to get better."

An average sophomore class at CHS is around 600, but an average graduating class is 450. Some kids will inevitably move, have to work to support the family or even become parents themselves. But Brady hopes pairing those 600 sophomores with mentors in 2019 means more of them are crossing the graduation stage in 2022.

While the mentor is primarily the one looking out for his or her five students, Brady is optimistic those groups of five will also look out for each other and become leaders themselves.

The kids ended the day with a group activity at Rock Staubus Gymnasium called "Crossing the Line." Sophomores, mentors and teachers lined the gym, with every line face-to-face with another. Menon read a statement, and asked everybody to take a step forward if the statement applied to them. Many were simple, like whether they wore glasses or whether they'd watched something on Netflix. By all estimates, everybody moved at, "If you've done something your parents don't know about, take a step forward."

The final statement, which drew plenty of steps: "If you're ready to be the solution and change for your school, take a step forward."

Sven Olson, a Phoenix-based business owner who helps Ignite, told the students they can always make positive changes. He recalled being 16 years old and getting the phone call that his friend was killed by a drunk driver, and decided never to touch alcohol because people who don't drink can't be drunk drivers. Whatever decisions students made, Olson said, they had help going forward.

"You can't return tomorrow morning thinking you're all alone and nobody cares for you," Olson said. "There are people here, and they'll be here tomorrow."


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