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10 Rising Hearts: students create Wildcat Mentors to better connect freshmen

The Oak Ridge High School students embraced a service project assignment

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — A couple of Oak Ridge High School students recognized a need for a better connection between freshmen and upperclassmen. 

They started Wildcat Mentors.

Monica Johnson and Jose Osvaldo Contreras Padron went to the Future of Hope at Johnson University. They had to come up with a community service project. 

The two students didn't stop there.  They approached their school counselors about adopting their idea. 

"We noticed the work you are doing on the social and emotional isolation issue. And we were wondering how we could extend the arm of the counseling office through a student-led program. And we came up with the Wildcat Mentors through the Rising Up Program, the research that we did," Monica said. 

Credit: WBIR
Oak Ridge High School exterior

Oak Ridge High School Social Worker Alison King said a survey showed kids were concerned about social isolation. 

"School is hard. Oak Ridge is very academic oriented. And they knew we needed to do something and this was a good way to start building relationships with the freshmen so the freshmen didn't feel lost," she said. 

Credit: WBIR
Wildcat Mentors shirt

Wildcat Mentors are trained with a specific curriculum to lead small groups like this in activities and discussions. 

"By doing this we can spread out all the freshmen and give them different leaders to look up to," Jose said. 

Monica said, "In order to be a positive role model and interact with them positively, we make sure that we're upbeat, have good energy, know what we're doing prior to doing the activity."

They think the new program is making a difference. 

Jose said, "They know that there are upperclassmen that they can go to for help. I know the group that I mentor they know they can come to me with whatever problem they have, whether it's a problem at home or math class." 

Monica said, "It just creates a greater sense of community for you and the people." 

Monica plans to go to law school. Jose plans to be a doctor.  In the meantime, they're making Oak Ridge High School better for everyone. 

Alison King said, "Their passion for this school is evident by them just coming forward and wanting to make sure that especially our freshman feel a part of this school." 

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