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From mentor to teacher: Saar leads by example

Megan Saar, a senior at Ottawa High School, remembers all too well what it was like to be a freshman.

But as part of the school's doChange Peer Mentor program, she was introduced through her freshman homeroom to upperclassmen who took students under their wing and helped them adjust to the life of a high school student.

"I enjoyed walking through the hallway and being able to say hi and know who they were," Saar remembers. "I appreciated them being able to help me out when I needed it and I wanted to do that for someone else."

As a junior, Saar was selected to become a Peer Mentor, a job she has taken on with pride for two years. In each freshman homeroom, three to four upperclassmen are assigned to help students feel comfortable, by playing games, doing activities and just being a sounding board.

The school schedules homeroom five days a week. Peer Mentors spend four out of those five days in their assigned freshman homeroom. The other day they spend in their own homeroom, to catch up on announcements and other business.

"I really think it helps them come out of their shells a little bit, some of them don't know anyone and it's helpful too if they have questions on homework," Saar said. "They have upperclassmen that have been through those classes before that can help."

Saar said it is typical at the beginning of the year for freshman students to know a few others in their homeroom, which can drive clique behavior.

"As the weeks go on, they may realize 'Oh, this person is in my homeroom and also in my science class' so it gets less cliquey and becomes more of a jumbled mess," she said. "It gets a lot louder as the year goes on too."

Glenn Weatherford, the homeroom teacher for the class Saar mentors, is impressed with her connection with the students.

"Megan has a presence about her when she walks into the room," Weatherford said. "She has a plan, and knows what to do with the students. Megan continues to find new ways to interact with the students and develop relationships, which help her leadership skills grow."

It turns out in Saar's case, she is receiving back just as much as she is giving to the other students.

"I love it," she said. "I feel like it's made me a lot more outgoing. It's made it easier to talk to kids. Both homerooms are with teachers I didn't have freshman year so I know them better too. It's made me more outgoing. I feel like it's made me a better listener too."

Weatherford agrees with Saar's assessment.

"Megan makes a significant impact on all the students she mentors on a daily basis," he said. "Megan is a solid role model and she leads by example. This example she sets will show freshman the right way to become a solid person and student at Ottawa High School.

As for Saar's future, that was decided when she was a mere youngster. The 18-year-old plans to attend North Central College in Naperville and someday be a high school teacher.

"I for as long as I can remember have wanted to be a teacher," Saar said. "I always thought it would be with little kids, but as I've gotten older I've enjoyed the relationships I have with teachers in middle and high school and now I want to teach older students. I really, really like history, maybe reading. Maybe someday I'll be a guidance counselor, we'll see."

In addition to being a mentor to other students, Saar is an all-around student in her own right. She has taken honors, independent study and advanced placement classes. She has been a member of the school's Rotary club, National Honor Society, Youth Making a Change, choir and the stage crew for the last three plays.

"She truly embodies the independent study program at our school, meaning she is doing it all herself," said her independent study teacher Tom Hart "She embodies the connection with students. She embodies the willingness to sit there and listen to them whether it's tutoring or social. She's engaged with them. Her compassion that she's demonstrating now as a peer in her relationships is going to fuel her passion for teaching."

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