Aspen mentorships foster ‘a love of learning’ |

Aspen mentorships foster ‘a love of learning’

ASPEN – Over the course of the school year, Aspen sixth-graders have “worked” as chefs, preschool teachers, veterinary technicians, coaches, artists, ski patrollers, clothing designers, pilots and – full disclosure here – reporters and editors at The Aspen Times.

“Working in the community makes a huge impact on these kids,” said Aspen Middle School teacher Peter Westcott, who pioneered the school’s unique sixth-grade mentorship program. “And it’s one of those programs that’s so simple on the teachers’ side. … The kids go out there, and amazing things just happen.”

In fact, the students spend 30 hours outside of the school day working side by side with a mentor – a community member who has agreed to share their profession with a sixth-grader. Students are required to document their hours and what they’ve learned by creating some type of presentation. Thursday afternoon, some 120 students will share these presentations at a science-fair-type expo.

It is a unique experience and one not likely to happen in many communities.

“Aspen is such a great community, and we have such a huge variety of talented people who are very willing to mentor our kids,” Westcott said. “The mentors are really the heroes of this program.”

According to Westcott, most Aspen students thrive in the program, which among other things helps kids see the link between school and the real world – often for the first time.

“Sixth grade is the time when kids really start saying, ‘Why do I have to learn math?’ and ‘Why do we have to study English?'” he said. “So it’s a really great thing for them to see that these skills are important in just about anything they might decide to do.”

And deciding what to do is generally not a problem for these Aspen students. Westcott estimates 80 percent of the kids “just know where they want to do their mentorship.” The most popular areas of study are cooking, athletics and animals; a smaller number of kids do mentorships in the fields of medicine, law and aviation.

Regardless of what a student chooses to do for his or her mentorship, the goal is the same: “It’s all about the love of learning. It’s not necessarily academic learning, but they have all been learning something.

“And for a few students, our hope is that they come away with a connection. Some kids just don’t like school, and this might be something that helps things click for them … helps them find that love of learning.”

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