Savannah high school student creates mentorship program

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, Savannah Arts Academy student Ava Dorminey decided she wanted to help students who might be struggling with the pandemic. She thought of a school supply drive or a mentoring program.

“I wanted to create an organization that targets the academic aspect, but also a mentorship program that would instill qualities such as leadership, confidence and teamwork,” she said.

By creating the Students Helping Students Succeed or SHSS organization in its first year, Dorminey hopes it will meet the needs of children in Savannah and Chatham County. She said it was created to help elementary school students academically and socially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thirty-two students from nine different high schools in the region are part of SHSS. Students come from Savannah Arts Academy, Groves High School, Windsor Forest High School, Savannah Christian Preparatory School, Calvary Day School, Savannah-Chatham E-Learning Academy, New Hampstead High School, Woodville Tompkins High School, and Savannah Country Day School.

She said interested students will need to complete an application and that some qualities of a candidate will include leadership.

“So it’s really like all the students in the Savannah area are helping other students,” she said.

The goal is to help teachers fill the learning gaps COVID-19 has caused for SCCPSS students, she said. She explained that high school students would help younger students by tutoring them, helping them complete their homework, and serving as a role model and mentor.

She said her organization will also partner with teachers and provide additional help with tutorials or an after-school program.

“I thought COVID would only accelerate the problem… it looks like there must be something else,” she said. “From there I got the idea of ​​how I can help students in a way that is not only educational, but strengthens their character.”

Dorminey brought up the idea of ​​starting SHSS because of her experience volunteering at the Isle of Hope Methodist Church E-Learning Academy. She spent five months at church working with kindergarten and first grade students.

During her time there, she assisted students with tutoring, coursework, and media issues. She found that some students did not get the same quality of education.

“It really helped me because they were students from all the different schools and they kind of noticed the difference in the quality of education,” she said. “You had students from schools where the teachers were a bit scattered, you know, and I thought, you know, well, COVID is only going to accelerate this problem, so it looks like something else needs to be done.”


Dorminey said that to start her organization, she had the help of her counselor and Stacy Jennings, communications director for the Savannah-Chatham County public school system. She also called counselors in every high school to spread the word.

She also wanted to have a mentoring component for her organization, to target high school students. The plan was to launch the mentorship program last fall, but she was unable to do so due to pandemic restrictions. Dorminey said the plan is to start the program this month.

The mentoring program will take place primarily on Zoom.

HSS will also host group meetings and breakout sessions with middle school students that would help them develop different traits such as leadership, self-esteem and work ethic.

She said middle school students will be matched with a student from SHSS after filling out a form asking them about their interests and personality.

Dorminey chose to focus on college because she remembers being that age and how difficult it was for her.

“College has been a tough time for me, and I kind of wish I had someone to talk to,” she said.

The organization organized a clean-up day at a local primary school, during which SHSS students raked, trimmed bushes, painted and electrically washed the exterior of a school. The organization has organized a Christmas gift replenishment campaign in which students will distribute Christmas gifts, including school supplies, art supplies and educational games, she said.

Future events include:

– Sports Equipment Drive in January: focus on students from low-income families.

– Children’s Book Collection in April: SHSS pupils will collect books for pupils and, if possible, help elementary pupils to choose a book.

– Field Day in May: SHSS students will help elementary teachers and schools to organize / lead the field day, provide assistance to teachers and participate in outdoor games.

Dorminey understands that academics are important, but she also wanted to serve her community.

“I want to leave a legacy here and I have the impression that sometimes you don’t necessarily do it by having A rights, it’s also about creating a good school culture and helping others”, a- she declared. “Sometimes I have to take a step back and say what I really want to do with my time here.”

Passing the torch

Dorminey said she didn’t want her organization to die upon graduation, so she created a leadership team to continue the work she started. The team includes a chairperson and a co-chairperson roles.

“I created the position of co-chair because I want this organization to continue even after I graduate,” she said. “I feel like that’s what a lot of people lack when they start organizations in high school. You need to make sure that the torch stays on, even after you leave.

She said most student organizations in schools need a teacher or school staff member to serve as an advisor, but since SHSS doesn’t actually have any meetings, none are required. . SHSS carries out service-based projects.

SHSS meets via zoom as program students attend different schools.

Hannah Demmler, senior at Savannah Arts Academy, said she got involved after watching young children face so many challenges during the pandemic. She is currently the president of the organization.

“I have a 7 year old brother and I just saw so many issues that kids his age face because a lot of people weren’t used to staring at a screen for eight hours,” she said. .

Demmler said she enjoys the way SHSS helps her connect with other students and see the needs of the community.

“My eyes were kind of open because I didn’t know there were so many groups at a disadvantage in the county,” she said. “I was kind of like a student in my own bubble at Savannah Arts, so I really wasn’t used to other people’s problems.”

Dorminey said SHSS is linked to its goal of having a 100% sustainable hotel. Another reason was that she wanted to be an inspiration to other children.

“I want to help other kids feel comfortable with themselves, sort of find what they like and be able to continue like clubs and extracurricular activities,” she said. “Even start their own club based on their interests and what they like to do. “

Dorminey said she had to rely on faith to keep going, and she thanks those who helped her. Seeing all of her hard work come together is what Dorminey takes away from helping her community.

“I think it’s really rewarding to see that like wow we’re really doing something here, we’re actually helping other people,” she said.

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