The global pandemic has dramatically disrupted all of our lives, but Boston College faculty member Belle Liang⁠—and her high school-age son, Toby Ting⁠—have seized on the "interruption" to create an innovative, online peer mentoring program that engages socially isolated middle and elementary school students.  

Called Boston College MentorOn and launched in March, the project equips high school students to advise and support their younger counterparts, with BC students serving as trainers. Together, they are creating an expanding, virtual neighborhood and a safe space for kids to have conversations with high school students about coping though quarantines, school and life transitions.

"I'm really excited about this project because it's an opportunity for high school and college students to use their gifts in really new ways," said Liang, a professor in BC's Lynch School of Education and Human Development. "This break in all of the 'busy-ness' and the routine of our lives has forced us to think more creatively."

The high school students are carefully selected, coached, and supervised to engage kids in online board/card games⁠—not gaming⁠—and academic tutoring, she noted.

"Our goal is to provide social interaction for kids who might not otherwise have much of an opportunity for it," said Toby, a freshman at Lexington High and the founder and director of MentorOn. "We want to give kids a chance to 'check in' to express how they're feeling and doing, and to give younger students an older mentor vlike a big brother or sister⁠—to look up to."

When queried on what he hoped to contribute to kids' lives during this unprecedented time, BC graduate student Caz Novak '17 replied: "MentorOn can help students feel more connected to both themselves and the broader global picture during a time of social isolation.  On a smaller scale, by connecting with students, we can contribute to that larger sense of solidarity."

"I'm really proud of this group of college and high school students who have taken their free time to apply it to something really needed right now in the world," Liang said.  "Social distancing doesn't need to be a time of social disconnection; it can be a time of great connection through fresh and contemporary ways."

To learn more or to sign up to be a mentor or be mentored, visit the MentorOn website.


Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | April 2020