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MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER The Students First program held an end-of-the-year celebration Thursday for community coaches and the eighth-grade students. Above, Jeremy Ganske, left, shares photos with Stanley Donnell, an eighth-grader at TrekNorth.

‘A fantastic program’: Students First concludes its second year

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BEMIDJI — Lawren Wadena, an eighth-grader at Bemidji Middle School, and Melanie Wilson, a Leech Lake Tribal College employee, have gotten to know each other quite well in the past year.

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The two have been partnered through the Students First school initiative, which aims to pair students with community coaches.

“It’s fun,” Wadena said about the program. “I like the games and I like talking about our (future) plans, high school.”

Students First just completed its second year as a three-year pilot program in which students work with their coaches to plan their high-school careers and discuss course selections to best utilize their talents, strengths and help them reach their goals.

“It’s a fantastic program,” said Lara Gerhardson, program coordinator. “The students have just grown so much, are contributing so much. It’s just wonderful to be part of it.”

On Thursday, eighth-graders and their coaches gathered in the Beaux Arts Ballroom on the Bemidji State University campus to celebrate the end of the school and their middle-school experience.

There now are roughly 200 students involved in Students First, which launched in January 2011 with the then-seventh-grade students.

This year, as they moved to the eighth grade, the program expanded to include incoming seventh-graders.

Next year, the program will expand further, enveloping students in three grades: ninth, eighth and seventh.

Current eighth-graders now have benefitted from a year and a half of community coaching.

“We are learning as much from you as you are from us,” said Gerhardson, who serves also as a coach, as she addressed the students.

For Madsen White, an eighth-grader at BMS, she has been meeting with Rebecca Snyder throughout most of her time in the program. She started last January with a different coach, who moved away, so she then was paired with Snyder, student support coordinator at TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School.

“I like that we can talk about things that could help us,” White said.

This year, eighth-graders began exploring and learning about their strengths.

White, who is considering owning her own business or pursuing social work in the future, was not overly surprised to be told she is competitive, an organizer and present.

“She knows herself pretty well,” Snyder said.

The program shifts for students next fall as the students enter high school.

Gerhardson said Students First work will occur in homerooms, but the foundation of the program — monthly meet-ups between students and coaches — will continue.

“I used to be a junior high teacher,” said Wilson, Wadena’s coach, about what drew her to the program. “I really missed working with that age group, and I’m always looking for ways to volunteer.”

Wilson and Wadena agreed that while there are certain topics they address during the coaching session, their conversations evolve naturally.

“Each time, there are questions (to prompt us), but we really have plenty to talk about,” Wilson said.

“Life and life goals,” Wadena said. “Like, if I’m having a problem, she helps me work it out.” 

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Bethany Wesley
(218) 333-9200 x337
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