For some students, the transition from middle to high school is an intimidating step along the pathway to adulthood. Compounding the pressure is the fact that a student’s freshman year is crucial to achieving success in high school and beyond. Research has repeatedly shown that the single most important indicator of predicting high school dropout rates is the academic standing of a ninth grader at the end of his or her first grading period, and the single most important indicator of academic achievement is how connected freshmen feel to their new school.

At Battle Ground High School, the solution to making sure new students feel connected to their school is the “STRIPES” program, or Students Trying to Reach Incoming Peers Experiencing School. STRIPES is a transition and orientation peer mentorship program that challenges students in grades 10-12 to mentor incoming freshmen.

“We’re here to help our peers succeed,” said executive STRIPES mentor and senior Shaylene Talkington. “Our job is to set up freshmen from the very beginning with the knowledge and tools to grow throughout high school. It might not sound like much, but even small gestures from juniors and seniors like smiling and saying hello to underclassmen in the hallway can help struggling students feel like they belong.”

Upper class mentors spend part of their summers training with BGHS educators and community leaders so they’re prepared to guide incoming freshmen once the school year begins. The peer mentors learn about classroom and conflict management, how to increase and foster school connectedness, and social/emotional development and academic performance issues.

Once their training is complete, STRIPES mentors provide tours of the campus and help new students find their classes, eat lunch with them, introduce them to key staff members, inform them about school resources and activities, invite and encourage them to attend school functions, and visit freshman classrooms each month to teach a character-based or academic lesson.

“Being in a new school that’s much larger and busier than middle school can make it easy to feel lost or confused sometimes,” said freshman Hayden Sanders. “STRIPES mentors help you get to know your classmates right away so it’s easier to ask for help when you need it.”

In the spring semester, STRIPES mentors transition to working with eighth grade students. The mentors prepare and execute the eighth grade orientation visit for incoming freshmen, as well as host an open house event for the eighth graders’ parents.

Members of the STRIPES program were acknowledged by the Battle Ground City Council in honor of the program’s longevity and positive impact in the community.

Now in its 19th year, the STRIPES program has trained more than a thousand students to be peer leaders, advocates and educators. In years past, STRIPES mentors have run after-school peer tutoring programs, organized teacher appreciation activities such as staff car washes, visited local teen centers to provide mentorship, and organized social events like dances, football tailgate barbecues, movie theater field trips, and ice cream socials.

The activities vary year to year depending on the goals of current student leadership, but the program always has the same mission: for current students to take an active role in increasing school connectedness and reducing both the failure and drop-out rates of their peers.

Oliver Root, now a math teacher at Prairie High School, credits the STRIPES program with helping to set him on the path to success when he himself was a student at BGHS. “High school can be a scary time for students, but peer mentorship programs like STRIPES help encourage kids to have an open mind and be honest about their struggles,” Root said. “It’s much more authentic when students hear from their own peers about opportunities and the right way to go about things.”

STRIPES was originally a leadership-style class offered at BGHS and was built on the belief that students are a powerful resource for helping other students succeed. When the staff and funding were no longer available for implementation of the classroom-based program, STRIPES continued as an ASB activity and is sustained to this day through BGHS’ counseling department.

“It has been my absolute honor to have spent a decade co-advising and leading this incredible peer mentorship program,” said Dawn Pack, BGHS school counselor and STRIPES program coordinator. “It is humbling to see the amazing work that is being done by some of the best and brightest young minds that Battle Ground has to offer, and the STRIPES program has had an immeasurable positive impact on the Battle Ground community.”