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Mentors help transition middle, high school students in McKeesport schools

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 7:27 a.m.
McKeesport Area school director Trisha Gadson and high school senior Ashley Lattore talk with eighth-graders Daysha Nichols and Connor Shields during a Monday visit to Founders' Hall Middle School.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
McKeesport Area school director Trisha Gadson and high school senior Ashley Lattore talk with eighth-graders Daysha Nichols and Connor Shields during a Monday visit to Founders' Hall Middle School.

As part of their transition from middle to high school, McKeesport Area eighth-graders talked with upperclassmen and community mentors on Monday.

Volunteers visited Founders' Hall Middle School classrooms to explain the differences in expectations as students progress from middle to high school, from high school to higher education, and then into the working world.

“Ninth grade is such an important year,” school director Trisha Gadson said. “It's a decision point for whether students succeed or end up dropping out of school. We want students to understand the significance of high school and encourage them to do their best.”

Founders' Hall principal Karen Chapman said students should recognize that their methods of handling a transition will impact their success.

“The way they learn to focus and stay on track today will affect them for years to come,” Chapman said.

By having McKeesport Area graduates and upperclassmen speak directly to students, the kids are hearing from folks to whom they can relate, Chapman explained.

“These are former students who sat right where our eighth-graders are sitting today,” she said. “They can talk about what it took for them to become successful, what they did after graduation and what they did through four years of high school to get there.”

Mentor Aaron Johnson, who leads McKeesport's YouthCAST teens through community programming, said students must understand the academic and social aspects of the high school transition.

“When we have the opportunity to explain the difference between middle school and high school, we get to dispel anxiety,” Johnson told fellow mentors. “Tell them what's different about going to high school — what issues you may have had and what they can look forward to.”

Sophomore Jessica Washowich said high school is an opportunity for students to be involved in a variety of clubs and sports and gain new experiences.

“This is one of the times when you find out who you are and what you want to be in life,” she said.

Mentors encouraged students to stay focused on their school work, take part in school activities, and grow with confidence.

“It helped me a lot to know what I need to do throughout high school,” eighth-grader Connor Shields said. “The mentors showed me what is more and less important, how to focus and to be prepared.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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