Peter Wharton stands with homie Jacob Martinez during a graduation ceremony for Helping Homies on Thursday afternoon at Steamboat Springs Middle School.  The program, which is in its first year, has sixth-graders mentoring first-graders.

Photo by John F. Russell

Peter Wharton stands with homie Jacob Martinez during a graduation ceremony for Helping Homies on Thursday afternoon at Steamboat Springs Middle School. The program, which is in its first year, has sixth-graders mentoring first-graders.

Helping Homies program pairs Steamboat students

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— A new program in the Steamboat Springs School District gave Strawberry Park Elementary School first-grader Otis Van De Carr an outlet for his boundless energy. It also provided sixth-grader Tucker Linberg a chance to shine in a new role.

In part because of the experiences of Otis and Tucker, the Helping Homies program has been deemed an early success. The first-year program that paired Steamboat Springs Middle School sixth-graders as mentors to first-graders held its graduation ceremony Thursday afternoon at the middle school.

Each first-grader, or little homie, was recognized with a certificate of achievement for improvement during the program. Afterward, they shared milk and cupcakes with the sixth-graders, or big homies.

Middle school and elementary school counselor Alison Hobson said Helping Homies was created after sixth-graders pledged to help others and spread kindness after being part of a program in fall called Rachel’s Challenge, named for Rachel Scott, the first victim in the Columbine High School shooting.

Hobson said there weren’t enough activities for the Friends of Rachel, the students who took the pledge, so she created a program that allowed the sixth-graders to mentor first-graders.

The eight pairs of homies met Thursday afternoons during the school year to participate in activities that encouraged good sportsmanship, cooperation, listening and teamwork, Hobson said. She said AmeriCorps school-based mentors from Partners in Routt County helped out.

Hobson said the relationships the homies developed benefited the older and younger students.

“My favorite thing was watching how these sixth-graders loved being mentors and connected with the first-grade boys,” she said. “And the first-grade boys loved it.”

Hobson hopes to expand the program next year to serve more students. She also would like to include a girls program.

Sixth-grader Colin Musselman, who worked with first-grader Andy Schuiling, said Helping Homies was a good opportunity to work with younger students. Sixth-grader Colton Pasternak said he felt like a role model after working with first-grader Brodie Skinner.

Otis’ mentor, Tucker, also said he benefited from participating in the program.

“This is a really cool experience, getting to work with Otis and the littler kids,” he said. “It was just really cool to help.”

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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