Mentor and Mentee pair demonstrate how meetings take place currently at Randolph Elementary school: six feet apart.
Mentor and mentee pair Emily Raef (left) and Izabella Stone (right), enjoy their weekly meeting at Randolph Elementary. (Photo courtesy of Susan Mahoney)

After a long-awaited summer, TeamMates mentor and mentee pairs were finally able to reunite in the schools for their weekly meetings, but this time they look a little different.

Due to the complications of COVID-19, Teammates Mentoring Program participants were forced to stop in-person meetings in the spring, which cut their normal school-year meetings short.

Susan Mahoney, Randolph Elementary Teammates facilitator and school counselor, said Teammate mentors are some of the very few people who are allowed into school buildings this fall as determined by the Lincoln Public Schools District.

“They understand how important those connections are between the kids and their Teammate mentors,” she said.

Some of the requirements for Randolph Elementary and in other Nebraska schools include mentors and mentees wearing face masks, social distancing and adjusting schedules to avoid students’ lunchtime.

Mentors can also no longer use the school-provided board games, craft materials or sports equipment but may bring their own.

Similar conditions are also present at Ashland-Greenwood Elementary School.

Kayla Laune, teacher and Teammates facilitator at Ashland-Greenwood Elementary, said mentor and mentee pairs are encouraged to stay in one meeting spot for the entire duration of their meeting and to sanitize what they have touched during their meeting time.

“We pretty much asked them to limit where they’re going instead of all over the school,” Laune said.

Mahoney also commented on the impact that not being able to meet in a normal fashion has on the child.

“I think that’s been hard for all of us, certainly not just with TeamMates,” she said. “It’s hard to have a relationship with someone when you can’t sit right next to them. You can’t high five. There aren’t a lot of hugs going on.”

Some mentor/mentee pairs have even chosen to meet over Zoom calls to practice caution.

At Ashland-Greenwood, Laune said that most mentor pairs are in person, but they do have one pair that meets over Zoom during the mentor’s maternity leave.

“We have dedicated mentors that are wanting to meet with their students and so they’re willing to do whatever minor changes we’ve asked them to do,” Laune said.

At Randolph, Mahoney said that they are integrating Zoom more.

“We have about 10 matches at Randolph, and about half are meeting in person at school and about half are zooming to have their meetings,” she said.

Before even announcing to their mentee students that Teammates was beginning again this year, both facilitators received questions. Students at both schools were eager to reunite with their mentors, Mahoney said.

“I was zooming in with a class; it had nothing to do with teammates, but one of the kids took his mute off and said, ‘Do I still get to see my mentor?’” she said. “It’s something that the kid looks to so much because that relationship is so important.”

Laune is experiencing similar challenges with students at Ashwood-Greenland.

“You get the kids the first week of school asking ‘When do I get to meet with my mentor?’ So, yeah, everybody was more than willing to get going on it,” Laune said.

One thing is for sure: Both facilitators are enjoying seeing the relationships between their pairs once again.

“I just love watching every year and seeing the friendship and the relationship grow between the mentors and mentees,” Mahoney said. “I love seeing them as they go through middle school and high school hearing about how they’re still together and, and the things that they’re doing together.”

Laune, also a mentor at Ashland-Greenwood High School, said she is looking forward to doing the normal things she and her mentee love to do.

“I look forward to just being able to go outside or go walk around the school if she wants,” Laune said.

Many mentors are committed to meeting in-person because they know how important it is to the well-being of their mentees.

Abigail Noel, mentor to a fifth-grade student at Adams Elementary, was eager to get back to in-person meetings for a few reasons.

“I’m still committed to being a mentor and meeting with my mentee because she thrives off being able to express her personality and feelings outside the classroom, even if it’s just once a week,” Noel said. “She also needs someone who isn’t a teacher that is cheering her on and wants the best for her.”

Mahoney said TeamMates participants should make the most of the time they have together even if it’s less than an hour.

“Even if it’s without high fives or handshakes, just make the most of that time talking and continuing to keep that relationship strong so that when this is all over with, you can go back to normal,” she said.