The Power of One Female Mentor at Milton Hershey School
“Ultimately, I feel like Mrs. Kirchner is a safe place for me to be calm,” shared Vanessa, Milton Hershey School senior. “Our conversations remind me that we’re females and we can be powerful. We can have our values and not be swayed by other people’s perspectives or what people want from us.”
For many Milton Hershey School students, growth is inevitable. It’s a unique and moving experience to see the growth that each student makes from the day they enroll to the day they graduate. For Vanessa this couldn’t be more true—but she didn’t get there on her own.
Over the seven years she has been at MHS, Vanessa embraced every opportunity to grow—stretching herself outside of her comfort zone at times, because she knew the results would be too great to not take the risk. During her time at MHS, she played volleyball, was on the track team, joined the Student Government Association, served in National Honor Society, and more.
Even amidst her busy schedule, Vanessa wanted to meet new staff members across campus that would help her develop the necessary skills she knew she would need after graduation. She joined the M.O.L.D. mentoring program on campus with this in mind—where she met Erin Kirchner, MHS Senior Division English Teacher.
As they began to develop a mentoring relationship, they felt the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic but the pair didn’t let this get in the way of growing a connection. Mrs. Kirchner and Vanessa took part in virtual events hosted by the M.O.L.D program, took walks after school, and engaged in intentional conversations that helped Vanessa think differently.
“When I first came to MHS, I never wanted to feel like a burden to people, and it led me to be incredibly shy,” shared Vanessa. “I was so shy that I would mumble in response to being asked a question. I feared asking for help because I never wanted to be too much.”
During the past two years, Vanessa has seen the conversations she has had with Mrs. Kirchner leave a deep impact on her life. From understanding that she has a space in this world to discovering that there is freedom and power in making your own decisions, Vanessa has learned how to be true to herself from her mentor.
“We’ve definitely talked about the importance of owning your space—whatever that may be. Whether it’s owning your decision to follow your passions even through the fear of disappointing others, or setting boundaries with boys,” shared Mrs. Kirchner. “I often think that as women, we feel like we have to consider our effect on other people or how we’ll be judged for our decisions. Sometimes we have to be reminded that we can put ourselves first sometimes and think through our priorities and values.”
While many people along the way have helped Vanessa transform into who she is today—confident and resilient—she can see the value that having a female mentor has had on her development.
“Having a female mentor and role model, like Mrs. Kirchner, gives me someone I can talk through my decisions with,” Vanessa said. “She helps to ground me and remind me that I can make the decision that aligns with my values, which allows me to be purposeful in my decision making.”
Mrs. Kirchner has learned so much about herself and grown through her relationship with Vanessa as well. She sees herself as a part of Vanessa’s MHS family—supporting her through the good moments and the bad. She feels lucky to have the opportunity to walk alongside Vanessa on her journey and has gained just as much from Vanessa as Vanessa has from her—demonstrating the importance of their connection and commitment to bettering each other.