More than 20 Columbus East High School juniors and seniors are partnering with Central Middle School students as part of a year-long mentorship program.

The program, now in its eighth year, was created by Marianne Wohlford, Columbus East dean of students, and a former guidance counselor, said Kristin Schuetz, East’s counseling department director. Twenty-one upperclassmen were selected as mentors after submitting an application and being interviewed earlier this spring, she said.

The mentors and their assigned students met for the first time during an informal gathering outside the Donner Park shelter house Sept. 20, where they participated in different socialization exercises led by representatives of the Indiana FFA Leadership Center based in Trafalgar.

Under the program, high school upperclassmen meet with their assigned seventh- or eighth-grade students once a week for lunch. Facilitators from the FFA Leadership Center are offering team-based activities every other week at the middle school focusing on effective communication, relationship building and setting goals, said Lori Meyers, challenge course manager of the FFA Leadership Center.

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Maggie Gregory, a senior at East, is participating as a mentor for the second year in a row after being accepted into the program during her junior year. She wants to make a difference, she said.

Gregory has two assigned students, Angel Wilson and Jade Kiss Spalding, and will document her experience mentoring them as part of her senior project, she said.

“I just want them to know I’ll always be there for them,” Gregory said. “It’s very rewarding at the end where you see the outcome and development and the bond you’ve made.”

Spalding also said she hopes her involvement in the program will help improve her grades.

Wilson said she wants to make new friendships.

Dustin Anderson, an East junior, is in his first year as a mentor and said he will provide any support for his assigned students that may be needed.

“I want to know everything they’re going through and help them,” Anderson said.

The program isn’t just to help the middle school students, Schuetz said. The high school mentors learn empathy through their involvement in the program, Schuetz said.

“I think the relationships that are formed both ways are the biggest benefit,” she said. “I hope the mentees feel a personal connection (with their mentors). Hopefully that will help them this year and moving forward.”

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com