But now, they have a chance to help current middle school students get through some of their struggles.
A new program at Science Hill is part of Debbie Mottern’s Topper Summit class, partnering Science Hill seniors with Liberty Bell students to provide an extra layer of support.
A few days a week, Science Hill students meet with an assigned Liberty Bell student to be a resource and help them with schoolwork or just talk. Science Hill senior Kacey Garrett has been paired with Liberty Bell seventh-grader AJ Stout, and the two said that their new friendship has been more than either imagined.
“Whenever I signed up for the class, I wasn’t expecting for it to impact me as much as it has,” Garrett said. “I wasn’t expecting it to change me and change the way that I see things, but it’s been a really good experience and it has opened my eyes to a lot of things.”
Stout agreed, and said Garrett’s friendship and assistance have helped her.
“She gives me really good advice and she won’t sugarcoat anything,” Stout said. “It is easier having someone older than me to talk to other than adults. She is there for me if I need her. It really helps me with everything.”
The students meet throughout the week to complete homework assignments, get a little extra help with their school work or to talk about life. Early indications are that the program is working exactly how it was designed, according to Mottern and Liberty Bell counselor Traci Honeycutt.
“I have always believed that having a peer mentor can make a difference in the life of a student, so this is a win-win opportunity for both students,” Honeycutt said. “The high school students have the chance to make a positive impact by giving back to students. Our middle school students are excited about having the extra academic help as well as an older peer to look up to. It is also helping develop a better servant heart and the feeling of building a better cohesive community.”
As a part of the program, Science Hill students have helped develop both academic and personal goals for their mentee.
“We have given them guidelines, but we have allowed them to be real and honest with the students they mentor,” Mottern said. “My high school students have recognized that a lot of our younger friends just want someone to talk to. They just want somebody that will tell them how it really is in high school and be someone to motivate them and help them adjust their outlooks before it is too late.”
Science Hill senior Austin Woodell mentors two Liberty Bell students and has developed great friendships with both. Gavin Bange said that he’s enjoyed having a big brother-type relationship with Woodell.
“I’m glad that I have him,” Bange said. “It’s helpful to have someone that has been in seventh grade before. He’s helped me a lot with my schoolwork, but he has also helped me as someone to talk to.”
Woodell came to Johnson City in 11th grade, so Bange has served as a resource to help him get to know his new home. Woodell said it’s been helpful to have a relationship where someone looks up to him.
“Coming over here, I didn’t really know what to expect. But after doing it a while, I really feel like an older brother,” Woodell said. “I want to do more than just help them out with their grades, I want to give them life advice and help them with the transition into high school.”
Mottern said she believes the program has been successful because it allows the students to take ownership and shows them they have students who look up to them.
“Some of them are seeing a different way of life and this experience has humbled them. They are realizing that they can be role models and they do influence others,” Mottern said. “These high schoolers have been impacted in many ways, some of them have started to re-think their career goals. They never had the opportunity to work with younger students, and now that they have. They are realizing it might really be a career to think about.”