When elementary students take cues on behavior, to whom do they look? In Cincinnati, Ohio, youngsters get this guidance from older peers. Through the Winners Walk Tall program, responsible middle schoolers make weekly visits to primary classrooms and teach lessons that emphasize making good choices.
Family and Children First coordinator Joan Pack-Rowe first instituted the mentoring program with high school students from Aiken University High School. When she moved to William H. Taft Elementary School, she recreated Winners Walk Tall as a partnership with a middle school.
"Feedback from teachers whose students receive the program has been very positive in terms of seeing the primary students put the things they learn to good use," reports Pack-Rowe. "Classrooms are more peaceful and students are having fewer behavioral incidents."
A handful of eighth-grade students began their training last September and then accompanied the school's prevention specialist to the third grade class to assist with a social skills curriculum. By November, each participant worked with a small group within the class to present prepared lessons. As their confidence grew, these mentors started to design their own lessons, and today they visit kindergarten, first, and second grade classes as well. They are currently training other seventh and eighth graders to join them in their role as "Character Captains."
"There are 29 units, and they vary in focus from taking responsibility for your actions, to manners, bullying, using your time wisely, listening, empathy, resolving conflicts, and more," Pack-Rowe explains. "During the planning phase, we go over the lessons with the mentors with regard to goals and objectives, but it is up to them to determine how they will present the material."
The mentors develop games, perform puppet shows, use role playing, and even make up songs and dances to get information across to the primary students in ways that they will understand.
"The older students are blossoming. Their confidence has grown in many ways, but one of the most significant is seeing them take academics more seriously and with purpose for the future," said Pack-Rowe.
As the coordinator of the program, she has learned over the years that her students will rise to her expectations, and she relies on their talents and assets. She approaches them with overall goals and proceeds from there with the students' input.
"I let them know that I have confidence that they will be successful and that I am there to coach them, not to do tasks for them," added Pack-Rowe. "We have fun, but we work hard and the reward is a job well done."