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Outreach connects high school, elementary students

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In the Students For Students program, GHS students read to and interact with students at GES, help them with homework and provide positive role models.

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By SHAINA STOCKTON
Staff

Galax Elementary School students sat in the cafeteria on Friday morning and quietly waited for their mentors to arrive.
The children’s eyes lit up as they caught sight of the high school students walking through the doors, and the silence suddenly broke into full-blown pandemonium.
It wasn’t long until the students had settled into their comfortable routine of reading and homework review. The cafeteria quickly divided into groups, with high school students surrounded by the younger students who look up to them.
These sessions have become a highlight in the day for members of the “Students for Students” program. Originally developed by Galax High School’s assistant principal Justin Iroler, the program was designed as an outreach for both high school and elementary school students.
“This program not only provides mentoring for the younger kids, but it also gives the older students an opportunity for leadership,” said Iroler. “We are utilizing our most valuable resource, our students, to help other students.”
The program began about a month ago, with four students chosen by Iroler. It has now expanded to include 10 students, six of which volunteered for the program.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the students meet at the high school at 7:15 a.m., where they catch a bus to the elementary school. When they arrive, they rotate around the cafeteria so that they get an opportunity to spend time with all of the children. The morning routines continues until 8 a.m.
At 7:30 a.m., four students go to the gym, where they assist the P.E. teacher with activities. Earlier that week, they had even developed a game on their own to play, modeled after the popular video game, Pac-Man.
“They followed lines on the gym floor, and the ‘ghosts’ are dressed in sweaters,” Iroler said. “It was basically like a giant game of tag. They had a lot of fun with it.”
So far, the program has succeeded in developing positive relationships between the students. “The kids are always so excited to see them,” Iroler said. “They even ask for some of the students by name.”
He noted that the high schoolers are just as enthusiastic as the younger children. “You should hear them on the bus ride back to the high school. They talk so animatedly about their experiences here,” he said.
GHS student Bianca Reyna sat at a table with a Dr. Seuss book propped open in one hand. Students seemed to pile on top of one another as they listened to her reading intently.
Moments like this, she says, are what she loves about volunteering the most. “If something as simple as reading a book to them makes them happy, then it makes me happy to do that for them,” said Reyna.
Reyna also said that she benefitted from the program, because she has learned more about children by getting to know several of the elementary school students. “I’ve learned to understand them in a different way, and I learn a lot just by talking to them,” she said.
Iroler noted that Reyna was interested in a career in the military. “I think she would probably make a great teacher,” he added.
In addition to this program, Iroler said that they are always trying to find positive ways to influence their students. High school students are also volunteering to mentor other high school students and even middle school students to help them with transitions and act as a support system.
“We want to do everything we can to provide our students with something positive,” he said.