APS Column: The REACH Program at Neveln Elementary

Published 6:15 pm Friday, December 9, 2022

By Ryan Barnick, Neveln Elementary principal

and Social Worker Julia Kranz

The REACH Program is a voluntary, elective course designed to assist Austin Public Schools students who may need support academically, socially, and /or emotionally at both the middle school and high school levels. REACH believes every student can overcome academic and personal obstacles to achieve success. We start with the belief each student deserves dignity and respect, while being sensitive to individual needs.

As part of the REACH course/program at Ellis Middle School, students must complete service-learning projects throughout the course of the school year to give back to the community.  One of the newly identified outreaches this year is a trial of a mentorship program between the Ellis Middle School Reach students and select students at Neveln Elementary School. The mentors and mentees will come together once a month in structured theme activities that center around the goals of the already founded REACH program. The REACH program provides students with the ability to build Relationships, expand on their Education by having unique learning opportunities; have Accountability with their mentors or mentees; Character development opportunities through team building work; hard work by being challenged to connect with someone who students might usually not be in a position to know.

Students that are participating in this mentorship program have been placed into pairs by the school counselors/social workers at each of the schools. Neveln students, who are in first and fourth grade, are paired with an eighth grade Ellis mentor that will remain the same throughout the school year.  Prior to Neveln students meeting their mentors, they received handwritten cards introducing themselves and their hobbies.

No doubt, Neveln students were filled with excitement and wonder as they read letters from their soon-to-be mentors introducing themselves.  The objective for the first visit was simply connection and getting to know each other. During this visit, Ellis and the Neveln students collaborated together in the Neveln art room to decorate a pumpkin. This activity was a challenge for all students as they were asked to create and design a theme with their partner, of whom they just met for the very first time. The November visit between the two groups focused on empathy. Students explored the idea of empathy by creating worry stones and playing social emotional games such as Zones of Regulation twister. Following up their last meeting, Neveln students will now be writing a letter back to their mentors explaining what they believe empathy is and how it makes them feel when others display empathy towards them. 

The purpose of this unique partnership between the two schools is for these students to building relationships and foster a sense of understanding, acceptance, and safety. As one Ellis student stated, “even though we have different experiences and are different ages we can still connect and be supportive to one another.”

It is our hope that these relationships and mentorships between students last beyond the school year and continue throughout their time as students here in Austin Public Schools.