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Mountaineers Mentor Elementary School Students

Michael Hershey
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts

Junior Mountaineer leaders

Junior Mountaineers Program leaders surround senior Yelena Schmidt, president of the Criminal Justice Student Association, which operates the program. Pictured with the Mount students are Joe Vince, faculty advisor to the program, and Heather Quill, a counselor at Lincoln Elementary.

In the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mount St. Mary’s University students found a way to connect with local elementary schoolers and each other. Started two years ago by a group of students who wanted to bring their community together to combat the loneliness brought on by the pandemic through a mentoring program, the Junior Mountaineers Program sets Mount students to be role models for elementary schoolers. The program, started as a juvenile mentoring program, is looking to expand to older students and has grown from a handful of Mount students volunteering with the program to include faculty, staff, and community members.

junior-mountaineers-basketball.jpgMount students who apply to be a part of the program go through a background check conducted by the Frederick Police Department. Once they are cleared, they are assigned to a student at Lincoln Elementary in Frederick. Mounties meet at least once a week for 30 minutes on Zoom or in person with their elementary student, offering help with homework, teaching life skills like time management, or just chatting as a supportive friend. Emerging out of COVID-19, mentors now go to Lincoln Elementary to spend time after-school or during school events with their mentees. “The students tell me first thing in the morning that their mentor is coming today and the feeling of anticipation truly carries them through the day,” said Sergeant Rebecca Corrado of the Frederick Police Department, who serves as the resource officer for Lincoln Elementary.

Senior Yelena Schmidt, president of the Criminal Justice Student Association, which operates the program, is thrilled with the success of the program and the possibilities for the future. She has been a tutor for three years now and is a head tutor this year. She has thrived as a leader in the Junior Mountaineers. “Every student is very different. I mentored a couple of students over the years and they have always loved hanging out with me and telling me about school. It was really nice just being their friend and they really loved just having someone to listen to them,” Schmidt said. Mentorship opens young students’ eyes to the world of possibilities available at an institution like the Mount as they interface with student-athletes; STEM, liberal arts, business and education majors; artists and musicians, and more.

In Spring 2022, the Junior Mountaineers came to campus and meet their mentors in person for the first time. The Lincoln Elementary students took a campus tour, had lunch in Patriot, and got to practice with the men’s basketball team. “We gave the students Junior Mountaineers t-shirts that were signed by the basketball team,” recalls Professor Joe Vince, the club’s faculty advisor. “I remember how excited the kids were. One of the kids said ‘I am never getting rid of this! These guys will be famous!’”  Vince recalled. Many kids might not find philosophy and political science all that interesting (yet!), but playing basketball is a great place to start connecting with these kids and teaching them about dedication and responsibility.

One of Schmidt’s mentees from last semester had been reluctant to open up, but by the end of the semester, she had learned that this student had been struggling with bullies. “Being a source of stability in their lives where they might feel overlooked can make a world of difference,” Schmidt said. Being able to communicate and talk about personal challenges is universally useful. Sgt. Corrado agrees, adding “students learn how to speak and work with someone who has experienced trauma and how to self-regulate. These are valuable lessons and tools for the mentor’s future careers.”

Schmidt has been called to service all over campus and beyond. On top of her double major, she is vice president of club tennis, a four-year veteran of the women’s club soccer team, a member of Mount Fellows, and is the president of Best Buds. In Best Buds she organizes Mount students to go to St. John Regional Catholic School, a Catholic school for Pre-K to 8th grade in Frederick, and put on events like game nights and fellowship for the students.

The criminal justice and sociology major also carries minors in theology and human services. “I took a forensics class senior year of high school which really called me to study criminal justice,” she said. “It pairs so well with sociology and human services.” Following her passion for theology, she is the Women’s Fellowship leader and Bible Study leader where she emphasizes the empowerment of others and how we are all loved by Christ. As a student with such diverse interests, she is thankful to the faculty that helped her pursue them all. “The small campus and the professors that all know your name make it really easy to collaborate between departments,” she shared.

The Junior Mountaineers program epitomizes the Mount's values by tackling problems that are insurmountable alone and bringing the community together to help those who need it most. Mountaineers are called to action to be an unstoppable force for good here and beyond.

Michael Hershey
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts