The following article originally appeared in The Malone Telegram on January 16, 2019

MALONE — Students at Malone Middle School met with Middlebury College students and local professionals on Monday as part of a regional mentoring program.

The school district set aside two periods in the middle of the day for “Mentoring Madness,” when sixth- and seventh-grade classes could talk about their futures with college students and working professionals.

The event was sponsored by CFES Brilliant Pathways, a nonprofit that encourages students to attend college and helps those students make college more feasible.

Bill Kissel, project coordinator for CFES in Malone, said that students showed a great deal of interest in the experiences of their mentors.

“These students were so responsive,” said Kissel.

During one seventh-grade class, students asked Middlebury College senior David McDaniel about life on campus, tuition costs and classroom etiquette.

“Can you wear hats in class?” asked one student. When McDaniel replied “yes,” the student exclaimed “finally!”

More serious questions raised by the middle-schoolers included questions about the possibility of holding a job while on-campus and how to manage living with other people in the dorms.

“In college, you have a lot more time to yourself,” said McDaniel. “It’s what you make of it.”

One classroom over, a familiar face returned to the school as a mentor.

Jerry Dumas, director of education and safety for the University of Vermont Health Network-Alice Hyde Medical Center, spoke about the career path that led him from teaching at Malone Middle School to his current job in health care. Part of his journey included his experience volunteering with his local fire and rescue squad in his younger days, which helped him channel his teaching experience into working in emergency management services (EMS).

“I truly enjoy every day I go to work, because I chose those pathways,” said Dumas.

Hoping to spark a similar mindset in the students he was speaking to, Dumas asked the class to write down three activities they were passionate about.

One student said they had a passion for fishing; Dumas posited several jobs where that passion could be put into practice, such as field biologist or forest ranger.

English teacher Corey Goodrow, who sat in during McDaniel’s presentation, said that the mentoring sessions seemed to have a positive effect on his students; many students who had been hesitant about trying to apply seemed to have a spark of interest, and those already looking forward to college were more eager.

“I think it got them thinking, ‘I can do this,’” said Goodrow.

After his presentation, Dumas said that he saw several students thinking about their futures, including one student who wanted to be an entrepreneur.

“It’s very encouraging to see them thinking past the next couple of years,” said Dumas.

The Mentoring Madness event, according to CFES, was “one of the largest single-day mentoring events ever held in the North Country.” The organization sent over 100 volunteers from local colleges, hospitals, businesses and nonprofits to serve as mentors to roughly 3,000 students at 13 schools in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. The program is part of an $11.6 million federal GEAR UP grant secured by CFES and will focus on civic engagement, college and career awareness.

Other participating school districts in the region include Lake Placid Central, Elizabethtown, and Plattsburgh. Participating volunteers represented from, among others, Middlebury College, North Country Community College, UVM Health Network, and Norsk Titanium.