Richard Montgomery High School Credit: via MCPS

A pilot program at Richard Montgomery High School is pairing upperclassmen with incoming freshmen to help younger students acclimate to high school.

Twelve juniors and seniors are available as mentors to help freshmen with their transition from middle to high school, often an emotionally stressful time for students.

The program is led by Kim Burgess, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating children and adolescents. The goal, Burgess said, is to provide freshmen with coping mechanisms to deal with stressors in academics, athletics and social lives. The mentor groups will meet and explore healthy and productive use of social media, school work productivity and efficiency.

Based on a larger research project at the Pediatric Psychology Center in Rockville, the pilot includes twice-monthly lunchtime meetings where freshmen can ask questions in a group or one on one, Burgess said.

The pilot program’s launch comes amid National Suicide Prevention Month, during which organizations, nonprofits, and community and government leaders raise awareness about preventing suicide and promote mental well-being.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate among U.S. youths, ages 10 to 17, increased 70 percent between 2006 and 2016. The CDC says the suicide rate among girls ages 15 to 19 doubled from 2007 to 2015, reaching its highest point in 40 years.


Richard Montgomery mentors receive student service learning hours for participating and were chosen at the conclusion of an extensive interview process. Each mentor has communication and leadership skills, Burgess said, and received about 20 hours of training.

“This program is important because this stage in adolescents’ lives is crucial for their development. There are many opportunities for them, yet at the same time, there are numerous stressors and challenges for them to handle,” Burgess said. “How they adapt to and deal with all these adjustments is key to how they fare healthwise and emotionally every day, as well in the future.”

Montgomery County Public Schools this year launched a countywide initiative called “Be Well 365” that promotes students’ physical, social and emotional well-being, according to school system officials. The initiative incorporates activities to promote physical health, mental health, problem-solving and bullying prevention, among others.


Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at