For one hour, one day a week, true magic happens in the structured learning classroom (SLC) at Wallace. The nine students in that class are there because their behavioral needs or mental health benefits from a more supported and structured environment. On Thursdays, they get a very special visit that just may be changing everything for them.

One or two students from the Kelso High School SLC visit the Wallace SLC to do an activity with them. What looks like play, is really a powerful form of mentoring.

“It’s a beautiful thing when they see a teenager who was right where they are,” said Nancy Baldwin, Instructional Aide at Kelso High. “Each one of these littles has related to one of the teenagers we bring in some way.”

The high school students do puzzles or play with putty with the elementary students. It’s during this play time that magic happens. They talk about how they, too, have struggled to control their anger; or how they know how hard it can be to adjust to new medications.

“When I was little, I had no one to talk to like this,” said Nathaniel Reed, KHS SLC student and most frequent of the seven different mentors.

Having older peers acknowledge the younger ones’ struggles, and let them know they’re not alone, makes them feel better about themselves. And that helps them pause and make different choices.

“The kids see me as a buddy that can help them with what’s going on with them,” said Jordan Barrett, another KHS SLC mentor. “It’s a really big deal.”

Big deal, indeed. When asked what it would have been like to have a mentor like them when they were in elementary school, Jordan said it would have helped them through a lot. And for Nathaniel, “It would have changed everything.”

Kelsey Rodman, KHS SLC Teacher, started this program last year and couldn’t be happier with it. Not only is it helping the elementary students, but she also sees behavioral improvement in the high school mentors after they’ve had some time with the kids at Wallace. “The best part is when you hear them saying ‘I’m making good choices because I want to.’”