Big Warriors, Little Warriors meet in person for the first time

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A group of Westerville North High School students visited Hawthorne Elementary’s first-grade classrooms on Wednesday to read books, play games and let them know they are already part of the Warrior community.

As part of the Big Warrior, Little Warrior Mentoring program, WNHS high school students have been paired with students at the three elementary schools that feed into WNHS: Hawthorne, Mark Twain and Wilder. The goal of the initiative is to build a community across grade levels and buildings.

The program launched last spring but due to COVID, high school students introduced themselves to their mentees through videos, letters and posters. This year marks their first in-person meeting with members of the Class of 2033.

“We had pictures of what they looked like, but we didn’t really know who they were or how they acted,” Big Warrior mentor and sophomore Zoey Harrington said. “Being at Hawthorne this year… it’s going to be really good bonding with them to know who they are.”

WNHS Principal Kurt Yancey proposed the idea in hopes of building a community across the district where younger students will know what to expect when they arrive at WNHS and what it means to live “the Warrior Way.”

“To have our kids who understand what it means to live the Warrior Way every day to influence young kids of Westerville and impact them so they’ll understand is what the Warrior Way is all about,” he said. “We want to show them how we try to build a culture of success that starts with the relationships we have with each other that’s all built on respect.”

He joined WNHS students during their visit to Hawthorne, observing his students read books and spark conversations with their mentees.

“Westerville North students are really good at connecting with young people,” he said. “I knew they would be, but to see it in action is really special.”

About 40 WNHS students make up this year’s Big Warriors. They are split into groups and assigned buildings to visit each quarter. A group worked with Wilder students earlier this month; another team of mentors will connect with their younger mentees at Mark Twain in October. 

“I want North students to be able to see themselves as growing leaders and they can discover the amazing qualities they carry inside themselves they may not even realize,” said Kristie Cameron, an English Learners teacher who leads the mentor program with intervention specialist Adam DeChant.  

“I hope it opens their eyes to purpose and dreams they may not have noticed otherwise. It's a chance for them to get outside of their comfort zones and grow as responsible adults.”

After two years of planning the program, the visits to Wilder and Hawthorne where mentor and mentee could finally connect in person meant the world for Cameron.

So too for Hawthorne students.

“Sometimes the best role models for young children are young adults,” Hawthorne Principal Ernest Clinkscale said. “They feel a greater connection with them.”

He is looking forward to future visits that deepen relationships between elementary and high school students and build excitement about high school for Hawthorne students.

“We want high school to be something that they can't wait to attend,” he said. 

During Wednesday’s visit, WNHS students introduced the first-graders to the Warrior Way, explaining how the values are built on respect. Hawthorne students shared the tenets of the school’s Fabulous Five — guidelines that help them find success in school. The high school mentors split up to visit students in their classrooms, reading them a book that further explains the Warrior Way before launching into a conversation about what they read. 

The high schoolers joined the first-graders on the playground and in the cafeteria for lunch. They returned to the classroom for a round of bingo, Uno and board games with their mentees. When their three-hour visit came to an end, the Little Warriors were reluctant to say goodbye. 

“I don’t want you to go,” one student said, embracing WNHS senior Olivia Shutler as she prepared to leave.  

The Big Warrior mentors were taken aback by their mentees’ reaction to their visit. 

“There was one little girl, when I walked in the room, her face lit up and her jaw dropped and she was just surprised,” Harrington said. “It made my heart melt inside of me. It was so sweet.”

During lunch, Harrington was swarmed by first-graders, including two who started arguing about who got to sit next to her. She offered them a solution, moving her position so they both sat close to her.

Several WNHS students said their Little Warrior mentees invited them to play with them at home.

Senior Amanda Murray, much like the other Big Warrior mentors, is looking forward to the group’s next visit to Hawthorne before winter break. 

“I hope they’ll remember us,” she said. “I’ll remember them.”