People in The News

Dartmouth Senior Helen Thomas Mentoring Students at Raymond High
By Leslie O’Donnell 4-20-17

When Helen Thomas was in high school in North Dakota, she thought about staying close by and attending college in Minneapolis. Then a family friend, Chelsey, who had graduated from Dartmouth College, suggested she apply for the Native American Fly-In Program and acted as her mentor.

Thomas was accepted to the Fly-in Program, which provides Native American high school students with first-hand knowledge of Dartmouth’s academic resources, student services and admissions criteria, and pays for their visit to the Hanover, NH campus. Thomas visited the college and was hooked. She applied to and was accepted at Dartmouth, where she will begin her senior year this fall, and is currently spending eight weeks in Raymond as a SEAD (Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth) mentor.

A Dartmouth friend who was a SEAD intern in Boston last term suggested the SEAD internship to Thomas as a way for her to interact with students and teachers, people who often are not involved with setting education policy. “Top-down policy doesn’t keep these people involved,” Thomas said.

SEAD brings students from around the country to the Dartmouth campus in the summer, where they take classes, explore activities run by student organizations, and develop relationships with the Dartmouth community. They return every summer during high school to prepare for and transition into college. SEAD also sends a Dartmouth student into a partner high school to maintain contact between the summer program and the students who will be attending it, as well as their parents or guardians and school advisors.

Thomas, who is enrolled in the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and was raised in Grand Forks, N.D., off the reservation, works both with Raymond High students accepted into this summer’s SEAD program, and the student body in general.

She explained that half of her work involves direct contact with the seven RHS freshmen who have been accepted into SEAD for this summer. “I mentor them, talk about what they might be nervous about in going to Dartmouth for two weeks this summer, and how to go through high school with college in mind,” she said. She meets weekly with the seven students, both individually and in a group, and will also work with their parents to help them feel comfortable with having their children in SEAD.

The other portion of her work involves the entire RHS student body. “I’m looking to create more of a college-going culture at Raymond High,” Thomas said, noting she is working with RHS college and career counselor Shawna Stilian, the local site coordinator for SEAD.

“We’ll be emphasizing Reach High Scholars, and try to get more freshmen classes involved, and increase interest in the (summer enrichment) Raymond Roundtables program,” Thomas said. She also maintains contact with Elizabeth Holcomb, program director for Reach High Scholars, a program that encourages middle and high school students to “reach high” in pursuit of an education. And she checks in weekly with the SEAD leadership team at Dartmouth.

During her eight weeks in Raymond, Thomas is living with Joyce and Jonathan Wood. “Having them as hosts is great because they’re super-involved in the Raymond community,” she said. “They’ve introduced me to lots of people, and I feel like I’m getting a sense of the community. They were so welcoming to me, right from the start. I couldn’t ask for better hosts. And living on the (Onway)) lake reminds me of being home, near the lakes in Minnesota.”

SEAD has been sending interns to Raymond three times a year, each student spending eight weeks in town, and Thomas is the fifth student the Wood family has hosted.

“Hosting a student brings somebody new and interesting into the household,” Jonathan Wood said. “We incorporate the students as family. It’s fun – you learn about someone new, and they integrate into the neighborhood and learn a little more about New Hampshire.”

Thomas is majoring in economics, with a focus on education policy, and has a minor in Native American studies. The emphasis of her studies is on issues in the modern education system. She eventually hopes to earn an MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree. “My ultimate goal is to work with reservation schools,” she said.

Thomas spent last fall studying behavioral economics in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the fall of her sophomore year in Santa Fe, N.M., in an off-campus study program with experiential classes in Native American studies.

On campus, she works with the non-profit Upper Valley Business and Education Partnership, which provides work-based learning programs to Upper Valley schools, internships for high school students, job shadowing for middle schoolers, and a financial literacy program for youngsters.

In some ways, she said, Raymond reminds her of the reservation schools because they are very small, and a college-going culture is not significant. “That’s very different for me,” she said. “I come from a comfortable, middle-class town and for me, there was no question that I would go to college. But on the other side of my family, my mother lives on the reservation, the schools are under-resourced and no one goes to college – it’s a big accomplishment to graduate from high school.

“When I found out about mentoring through SEAD with students who are going to be first-generation college students, like I am, I wanted to do that,” Thomas said. “I want to be someone students can ask questions to and rely on. Chelsey made a huge difference in my life and my college experience – having such a strong mentor made me want to do that for others, and SEAD seemed the way to go.”