NHS Pen Pals pay it forward to next generation

NHS Pen Pals pay it forward to next generation of students
Posted on 01/12/2023
NHS Pen Pals pay it forward to next generation of students

NHS Pen Pals

At I. C. Norcom, the school’s principle of “each one, teach one” is reaching far beyond the building’s walls thanks to its own Pen Pal Mentor Program.

The brainchild of School Counselor Michelle Effatt, the Pen Pal Mentor Program connects kindergarteners with mentors at Norcom. They exchange letters during the school year and the Norcom students will also make class visits to check in on their kindergarten mentees and support them in class lessons.

According to Effatt, the program works on writing and reading comprehension skills, cultivates strong verbal and written communication skills and promotes the division’s tenants of social-emotional learning. In addition, the key element in the success of the program is the interaction between the mentors and their mentees.

“They learn from one another, each helping the other grow,” Effatt said. “Not only do they connect with them through letter writing, but the students visit their mentees at their elementary school where they work with them one-on-one in the classroom on daily tasks.”

Pen Pal mentees

One of the most impressive accomplishments of the program is the retention and involvement of the student mentors. Dawn Harris, a current Norcom senior and Early College Scholar, started mentoring as a freshman and has continued for a fourth consecutive year.

“I joined the Pen Pal Mentor Program to be there as a guide for the youth in my community,” Harris said. “In the end, realizing you have become someone that your mentee can confide in makes it all worth it."

The program began in 2015 when Effatt was at Cradock Middle School. In 2018, she moved to Norcom and was able to successfully transition the program there thanks to the support and partnership of colleagues, like Technology Specialist Karen Darden, who serves as the program’s co-advisor.

NHS Pen Pals

Now in its seventh year, the Pen Pal Mentor Program is still gaining momentum. Thanks to the kindergarten staff and administration at Cradock Elementary and Lakeview Elementary, this once pilot program has expanded to five classes at the two elementary schools. Since 2015, more than 60 students have served as student mentors.

The true success of the program, though, comes in the affirmation it provides to both mentees and mentors.

“I am very passionate about giving our students opportunities to give back,” Effatt said. “I want them to see that they are significant to the future of Portsmouth, and programs such as this allow them to see their significance in real time.”

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