WHITLEY COUNTY — Four years ago, a group of freshmen students entered high school as part of a pilot mentoring program that paired them with upperclassmen. This year, a group of those freshmen are now seniors returning the favor that was handed to them and mentoring this year’s incoming freshmen.

On Tuesday, the campus of Whitley County High School was buzzing with new students during freshmen orientation.

Tracy Croley had what she calls training day on Monday where she met with the upperclass student leaders and made preparations to welcome the class of 2023.

Croley, who teaches leadership development at WCHS, also spends a lot of time helping students with soft skills, giving them the confidence to believe in themselves. Croley, WCHS Gear Up Coordinator Angie Wilson and several of the staff members were busy Tuesday with the more than 270 incoming freshmen.

Several years ago Croley and her colleagues became interested in offering a program that would pair junior and senior students with freshmen to help guide them and give them a smooth transition, because according to Croley, the adjustment can be overwhelming.

This year there are two leaders for every 10 students.

In doing research, Croley found that freshmen students will ask other students about their concerns before going to an adult. This mentoring program allows a connection, a familiar face and someone to encourage them.

“Really it’s someone in their corner as an advocate for them all year long,” said Croley.

According to one of Croley’s training sites, the Boomerang Project, the transition to high school is a major event in the life of a young person, and yet very few substantial strategies for support exist in most high schools. Numerous studies show that the transition to high school is marked by a period of emotional stress and discomfort for adolescents, often times resulting in a decrease in academic achievement and an increasingly difficult social adjustment.

It is this combination of factors that can be the impetus to poor decision making, as well as high risk and self destructive behavior for freshmen. Croley said making these peer connections early on reduces the dropout rate.

“Happy kids are successful kids,” Croley noted.

Croley has watched the program evolve and and modifies the numbers and applications as needed, but overall it’s a success for all students making such a big transition.

“The students that entered as freshmen and have been through the mentoring are actually really interested in doing a great job as a leader,” said Croley. “It’s sort of a reflection phase, where they can see maybe what they needed and didn’t get and they’re modifying.”

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