WINGS mentor program helps students transition into high school

Allen High School in Collin County is a mega school with a student population larger than some cities. Fitting in can be tough but a mentoring program is making the transition easier.

At the Lowery Freshman Center, it’s all about making connections. That’s the name of a 30-minute class freshmen are required to attend.

One day a week, mentors with the WINGS program enter their class.

The program is in its second year at Allen High School. It stands for We Inspire the Next Generation to Soar.

"We come in with like a different lesson, not necessarily like teaching them a subject but something more like personal or one-on-one that helps them learn like life skills and building blocks of things that they need to know for high school,” said Emilie Morgan, an Allen HS senior.

The program started after the Allen Independent School District saw a rise in students struggling with anxiety and depression.

It focuses on developing social-emotional skills.

“We wanted them to have a safe space, an adult that they could turn to, a community within that classroom in the school day so that no student slips through the cracks and they have a place where they belong and feel valued and trusted,” said Sara Paa, the WINGS program teacher.

There are more than 1,800 students at the freshman center. The goal is that by the time they get to the high school – where there are 5,000 students – they’re not only comfortable but have connections too.

The district said it’s been a success.

Freshman Mike Momoh said he struggles with communicating but has been opening up.

“I just worked out during the summer, that's all,” he said. “I'm actually improving a lot. I’ve made a lot of new friends in my class. So I’m really excited for the rest of the year.”

Senior Jenna Lowenberg is a student mentor. She wishes the connections class and WINGS program had been around when she first was a freshman.

“My freshman year was very hard for me socially and so it made it harder for my school life that I struggled so much. I just had a lot of things going on, like my dad was diagnosed with MS the beginning of my freshman year,” she said.

That’s one of the reasons she is hoping to be there for someone else.

“To be able to look back and, you know, know that I might have an impact on one kid in the class. Like, that's my goal every day to say something that's going to impact one person,” Lowenberg said.

The student mentors in the WINGS program sign contracts to stay drug-free, keep their grades up and volunteer for projects around campus.