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How I’m Building Relationships with First-Year Students

By Tanya Alfonso, MHS Home Life Administrator

First-year newly enrolled MHS students in first through fourth grade have the distinct advantage of participating in the MHS co-pilot program. Adult staff volunteers work closely to help new elementary students acclimate to the school and residential program by meeting formally once a month. They incorporate planned activities that help students focus on specific skills, including making friends, overcoming homesickness, and other skills they can use both inside and outside the school environment.

Having the co-pilot program for first-year students allows them to connect with staff who might be from different departments at MHS. These adults provide mentoring support services to new students as well as a trusted place to share anxieties, fears, or concerns.

Although I work in the Home Life department as an administrator and interact with students on a regular basis, being a co-pilot leader gives me a chance to wear a different hat and establish mentoring relationships.


For this year’s co-pilot program, we have planned a scavenger hunt, symbolic craft projects, and various team-building exercises. The lessons range from learning about self-esteem to diversity, respect, and holiday traditions. Students will learn how to compromise and find common ground, and will enjoy activities focused on career development, exploring and reasoning.

Many co-pilot leaders keep in touch with students through graduation and beyond. Having been in the program for the last four years, me and my co-leader Deb schedule quarterly lunch meetings with our students after they leave the elementary school.

We currently meet with 19 female students who range in grades four through eight. They thoroughly enjoy our lunch sessions—we celebrate birthdays, honor roll accomplishments, effort and conduct, and other accolades that are important to them. The girls are always eager to see us and share what they’ve been up to, sometimes seeking advice on challenges they’re facing. This fills my cup on a regular basis because I know I’m being a difference maker in their lives.

I feel extremely blessed to be part of this program which has been around for almost 12 years. I think students participating in co-pilot receive an added amount of adult support that can help guide them to success during their time at MHS.


Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.