Mentorship program at Avondale Middle School connects students, firefighters

A unique mentorship program connecting firefighters and middle school students in Avondale is starting its second year, establishing a long-lasting relationship with one school and the city's fire department.

The campus of Avondale Middle School is home to roughly 400 sixth through eighth graders.

"Kids are facing so many challenges nowadays, whether it's social media, whether it's drugs and alcohol, whether it's truancy," said Lillian Linn, principal of Avondale Middle School. "There's so much out there that kids have to face nowadays that wasn't out there when we were growing up."

Linn knows the pressures her kids face is enough to provide them with extra guidance.

"During one of our school cafes, I pitched the idea to the Avondale Fire Department chief," said Linn. "They had about 16 who volunteered."

The firefighters volunteered to mentor the students during the 2019-2020 school year, providing emotional support and advice. They visited campus on a weekly basis before the pandemic shut down schools.

"Some of the biggest issues these kids are facing right now are the influences from other sources, from social media," said Avondale firefighter David Santana. "It's easy to get involved in doing the wrong thing in school if you don't have somebody to guide you in the right direction at home."

The students learn the importance of making good decisions and having another adult to rely on.

"Some choices he won't make for me," said eighth grade Ethan Valenzuela. "He tells me, 'That's a choice you have to make,' but he will guide me into making the one I think would be better for me."

Whether they're shooting hoops or meeting via Zoom, the connection is what everyone involved says is key.

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