School district administrators have indicated that they hope students receiving in-person instruction and full-time distance students, who crave interaction with teachers and fellow students, will use the walk-in services available. in the building.
“We know that the pandemic has put a strain on everyone – both academics and physical health,” said Robin David, who began her job as director of the Mentor Center on Jan. 4.
The isolation that can accompany distance learning has an impact on students, according to David.
“It’s serious and can show up in academic work,” she said. “We know that one of the things that students miss the most right now is this sense of connection with other people.”
While distance students virtually connect with teachers and other students, it is not the same as human contact, said Cathering Gillach, assistant superintendent of secondary education.
The use of the centre’s services is voluntary, but some students may be referred by teachers or other school professionals.
Having a safe environment, during the pandemic, was also an essential part of choosing a location. The majority of students who chose to learn remotely did so for COVID-related reasons, Gillach said.
The past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity as David and others prepare to open the center. The details are apparently limitless, she said.
“It ranges from (how to treat) the most serious mental health issues to, do we have toilet paper in the bathrooms? This is what the past few weeks have been, “she said.
While developing plans for the center, David spoke with education professionals, including middle and high school administrators, the District Native American Liaison Officer, Chad Ward, and program specialists. English whatever they want.
“We listened a lot,” said David, noting that the input was helpful in writing an assessment of the services students need and want, which includes items such as preparation assistance for the university, arts courses and tutoring and enrichment studies.
“We are evaluating what that flow is and we want to be aggressive in meeting those needs,” said David, who expects the Mentor Center project to be “a very robust and very agile effort”.
Among the staff who have been hired to work at the center, Heidi Lamb Castle, a counselor and special education teacher, sees the value of this place for the well-being of the students.
“Our students have been deprived of social interaction and hands-on projects – and even outdoor projects,” said Castle, who is the parent of school-aged children. “One of our goals is to meet their needs. So, as a counselor, I will involve the children in social interactions, small group activities including games, crafts, discussions, yoga, ”she said, as she participated. at a training last week.
The Mentor Center, located in the UND Clinical Education Center at Sixth Avenue North and Hamlin Street, is open and staffed 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. the Saturday.
The building offers several advantages, said David, noting that the 16 individual examination rooms that were used to test the clinical skills of medical students, provide private and quiet spaces for students to study – something they may be missing at home.
A break room can be used by students for a snack, provided by the district infant nutrition program, and the conference bowl will be suitable for playing games together or working on art projects, while being physically away , David said. And the nearby well-lit bus stop and parking lot make it easy to get to the Mentor Center.
“We’re hearing a lot of interest from (school district) staff,” David said of the facility, which can accommodate up to 40 students.
“Sense of connection”
David hired 11 temporary staff for the Mentoring Center and coordinated their training ahead of Monday’s opening. Staff are key to the success of the project and to developing a sense of connection with students, according to David.
“The more comfortable they are, the more likely they are to come back. We want to build those relationships and those connections, ”she told the group of new hires last week.
Staff members include computer technicians, tutors, mental health and social-emotional learning specialists, and teachers, including special education and English teachers.
“They have to be very well trained and ready to help a 10th grade geometry student or a seventh grade English student,” David said.
The Mentor Center is supported by a grant of $ 182,000 the school district received from the Governor’s Emergency Education Fund (GEER), with federal funds that went to the state government of North Dakota, said Gillach.
This is the largest GEER grant awarded in North Dakota and is a testament to Taunya Schleicher, the district grant writer, and the team she assembled to draft and submit the grant application in less than two weeks, according to David.
The government intended to use GEER funds to support struggling students and to create a face-to-face, off-site and safe place for COVID that would meet the academic and socio-emotional needs of students. The funds must be spent by June, said Gillach.
“These are dollars that allow for extra support that we couldn’t afford,” she said.
Nationally, many educators are concerned that some students, who are not in face-to-face learning mode due to COVID, have academic losses that could prevent them from progressing in school or getting graduating from high school this spring.
An unexpected benefit for the district is the support the Mentor Center receives from the UND community.
“UND believes in the project so much that they donated the space for the Mentor Center,” said Gillach. “We are very grateful to UND. (The donation) means we can spend the money on the kids, not the space. “
While details are unconfirmed, Gillach and other administrators are “optimistic” that UND students who graduate from the teaching and learning program may also provide services to K-12 students at the Mentor Center. .
“We have a very short time to spend the money, but we are really grateful and grateful to even have this opportunity as there are needs galore,” said Gillach. “And we’re pretty confident that the Mentor Center will be able to really provide some of these supports that kids seek and miss.”
For more information, call the Mentor Center at (701) 215-5484, visit in person or visit the school district website at https://www.gfschools.org/Page/9332.