Kaitland Hager '12 of Springfield, Mass., established a mentor program to provide local, at-risk high school students with the skills they need in and out of the classroom.
A double major in education and English, Hager was charged with the task of creating mentor/mentee connections that would be sustainable. She set up a mentor program in conjunction with the Community Transition Program (CTP) in North Adams.
Started by nearby Drury High School as an off-campus alternative education for youth who are at risk - academically or psychologically - for dropping out of high school, CTP prepares them to succeed in life, and, if they choose, in college.
With the help of a CTP counselor, Hager got to work right away. By the end of the 2011 fall semester, volunteers to the program had established something "amazing," she said.
"The relationships they formed with the high school-age students resonated clearly and could be seen by any observer," Hager said. "It was clear, at the end-of-the-semester holiday party, that the connections the mentors had formed with the students were something that positively affected them, and would stick with them for some time to come."
At MCLA, Hager - who aims to become a teacher - is required to do pre-practicum placements, where she observes different classrooms and teaching techniques in area schools. Her work in these local classrooms has given her a unique perspective into the finer details and nuances of high school students and how they behave and function when not in a mainstream school setting.
"With that in mind, my experience in classrooms is now even more enhanced and more diverse. It's given me some experience I probably won't be able to get in any other classroom during my undergraduate education," she explained.
As she considered which college to attend, Hager did not envision herself at a large campus.
"I visited a few college campuses, but coming from a small high school, every college was just too big. I knew I wouldn't feel comfortable at any of those schools," she explained. "When I visited MCLA, I knew it was a good fit for me. The classes have a good student-to-teacher ratio... and I when came up to the Berkshires in the fall, I really just fell in love with the atmosphere of the school and surrounding area."
Hager says the best parts of her MCLA experience are the people she's met over the past four years.
"Professors, faculty, teammates and friends have opened me up to all sorts of possibilities and experiences I'm not sure I would have encountered elsewhere," she explained. "The other thing I've really enjoyed about MCLA is the chances I've been given to really experience the majors I chose, especially education. I've had the opportunities to get involved in the community and really challenge myself."
Making friends was easy, especially since she's been on the softball team for the past four years.
"The small campus, intimate classroom settings and the way that the majors/minors/concentrations are so focused make it very easy to make friends in the various activities you involve yourself with. I have a solid support system of friends in the education department, the way that I have a solid support system of friends in my everyday life."