By Dave Charpentier
Mentoring Program Coordinator

Traveling this fall to mentor St. Labre grads in college meant going to more campuses and traveling greater distances than any year before. My driving distance spanned from Pablo near Flathead Lake in western Montana to Bismarck in the middle of the Great Plains in North Dakota, an east-west trek of over 800 miles. Of course, the route I took between these towns was more circuitous than merely driving the interstate — I took detours to such schools as the University of Montana-Western, located in Dillon, close to the Idaho border, and Sheridan College, which is located in north central Wyoming. By air, I traveled to visit students in Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Kansas.

I still have two schools to visit where we have freshmen, Fort Peck Community College in Poplar, Montana, a 300 mile drive, and Fort Lewis College in Durango College, which will be an 800 mile drive, or a two hour drive to Billings, then a flight to Durango, with a layover in Denver. I have plans to make both trips this spring.

The main reason for the extensive travel to visit freshmen is that 88% of last year’s graduating class has enrolled in college during the current academic year (22 out of 25 graduates). And since our capture rate has averaged over 80% for the past seven graduating classes, there are many upper classmen to visit in college as well. A quick count of students in my mentoring program database reveals over 95 St. Labre alumni currently in college. I plan to visit as many as I can in person.

A typical campus visit includes such things as touring the campus, sitting in on a class, fostering connections with support staff and faculty, helping arrange tutoring (the St. Labre scholarship program includes a tutoring fund), and taking the student to lunch. And, I ask a lot of questions, ranging from what was the most interesting thing you learned in class, to where do you think you might want to live some day. I ended many of the conversation in the fall with this question: would you be interested in presenting on the annual alumni panel over Christmas break?

Most students said they would be happy to. It’s become such a tradition over the years at our school that the college students are eager to come back. They remember sitting in the audience during alumni panels from their high school days. One college student even told me that she has thought about returning for the alumni panel since the very first day of college classes.

This year, we held our fifteenth annual alumni panel on Wednesday, January 6th; the date worked well because the college students were still home on Christmas break, and St. Labre High School had just resumed classes after the New Year.  It is wonderful seeing our graduates return as college students: they are mature, confident, articulate and thoughtful, and they generate so much excitement among the high school students.

Here are a couple of highlights from the question and answer segment:

Question: What can we do as high school students to prepare for college?

[Reply from a freshman attending MSU-Bozeman, majoring in anthropology] I didn’t try too hard when I first got to high school. In fact, I even failed a couple classes. I was worried that it would permanently damage my chances. But I realized that it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. Besides working really hard on my grades as a senior, I also did a summer program at Crazy Horse Memorial and took summer classes through the University of South Dakota.

Question: Is it hard to be away from home?

[Reply from a freshman attending University of Montana-Western, general studies, with plans to become a minister] To be honest, it is hard to be away from home. I have a little boy, too, so it’s hard to be away from him. But then I remind myself of the sacrifice I have to make, so I can provide a better life for him. I use that for my motivation. That is the long-term goal I have in my mind. And then I just take it one day at a time.

After the panels were over and the alums were wandering around the school, looking at pictures on the wall and visiting with former teachers, a current high school student came up to me and said, “I’m going to present on the panel next year!”

“I will count on it,” I said to him.

And then I said to myself, That’s how it works. That’s how this whole thing keeps going.