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Students help each other achieve in school

Peer mentor Michelle Ford, left, a Park Rapids Area High School student, helps Shay Clinton with math homework during 8th Hour. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)1 / 2
Century fifth-graders Shania Farlee, Evan Booge and Matthew Schommer play a game during 8th Hour at Century School last week. The three students said the program is a good place to spend time so they're not bored at home and school. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)2 / 2

Park Rapids high schoolers have logged more than 300 hours of volunteer work as peer mentors since October.

The mentors were recruited in the fall to help Century middle schoolers with homework and interact on a social basis during 8th Hour.

"The peer mentors started out as a project from the high school sociology class," said 8th Hour coordinator Mari Jo Lohmeier.

It's become more than a class project for many of the students, though.

"They keep track of their hours and once they reached 10 hours, we didn't see much of a drop off" in attendance, she said. "It's rewarding for them."

The high schoolers have bonded with many of the Century students.

"It's a great socializing program, with games for kids and time for some help with school work," Lohmeier said.

8th Hour began nine years ago and has grown, with between 35 and 50 middle school students attending. Lohmeier said 178 different kids have attended throughout this school year. The program is offered Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from after school to 5 p.m.

The program is sponsored by St. Joseph's Area Health Services Community Health.

The program is offered free to students in fifth through eighth grades and was started as a way to keep kids involved in activities and away from risky behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

Some of the students have blossomed by attending 8th Hour, Lohmeier said.

"We have some students who have learning disabilities that have really found a place here," she said.

Fifth graders Matthew Schommer, Evan Booge and Shania Farlee attend 8th Hour and said it gives them something to do rather than sit at home.

"I'd probably be bored at home if I wasn't here," Schommer said.

They have enjoyed outdoor activities throughout the school year, such as snowshoeing. They also play table tennis or board games.

"Peer mentors are cool," Booge said of their high school friends.

Peer mentor Michelle Ford has taken Shay Clinton under her wing this year.

"I've been helping off and on all year," Ford said.

Last week, Clinton was getting some help with math from her mentor.

"I don't like fractions," she said.

But she likes getting help from her mentor. She specifically requests working with Ford each week. Ford also mentors during 4th hour.

The two have formed a special bond and hope to continue working together.

Besides the peer mentors, several adults from the community also help with the 8th Hour program.

Dana Kocka is a paid assistant who guides a group for "guys," where they talk about issues such as bullying.

Jeremy Girard, a church youth director, and retired pastor Donald Day, also volunteer their time. Day engages students in rousing games of table tennis.

Lohmeier said this year the program is finally looking like how she envisioned 8th Hour.

"The feedback I've gotten from the students is telling me that we're on the right track," she said.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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