LITTLE ROCK, AR – It’s been four years since Maggie Thannisch was actually a student here at Forest Heights Middle School, but the Central High School senior is still a familiar face on campus.

“I remember thinking, oh, I want to go in and I want to make a difference,” says Thannisch. “I want to help. It was almost quite the contrary.”

Last year Maggie and fellow classmate Drew Ricciardome set out to make a difference. Concerned with graduation rates in Arkansas, they came up with a mentoring program now known as STAND-UP.

“We were talking about graduation rates in my U.S. History class and we were talking about why they were so low and the stigma attached to teachers and why they can’t be good role models in the eyes of the middle schoolers,” says Thannisch.

“We had had experiences with adult mentors coming in from the community but one of the things that we noticed, as much as we loved our adult mentors and as much as the children loved them, a lot of times there was a bit of a disconnect,” says Counselor Martha Christie. “They didn’t feel like they had anything in common.”

Forest Heights Counselor Martha Christie loved the idea of pairing her students with high school juniors and seniors and left it up to Maggie and Drew to make it happen.

“She copied schedules, made the connections, and made the introductions,” says Christie. “She came up with the badges that the Central High School students had to wear so that we would know who they were.”

“We handpicked all of our mentors,” says Thannisch. “At first it started with just several of my friends.”

“Maggie called me one day after a class,” says senior Ryann Mitchell. “We have AP Psychology together. She asked me about it. That day, she gave me the paperwork and I filled it out and a week later I was here.”

“A lot of times we’ll have students who come into the counselor’s office who you just know needs someone to connect with,” says Christie.

“I went to Miss Christie’s office and I talked to her about getting me a mentor so I can help get along with people and get good grades on my report card,” says 6th grader Shuntia Bright.

Ryann Mitchell and sixth grader Shuntia Bright hit it off immediately. Like many of the mentors, Ryann visits the school two to three times a week, helping Shuntia with homework and sitting in on many of her classes.

“There’s no boundary with us,” says Mitchell. “She can talk to me about anything. So, when I come up here, we talk about school but we talk more about life.”

“I learned that when people talk about you, ignore,” says Bright.

“At that age, it’s important to have some sort of stability, something they can come to school looking forward to,” says Thannisch.

The middle school students receive positive academic and social influence. The high schoolers receive community service credit and the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference.

“I remember one day she came in and she kind of sat me down and said Maggie, I just want you to know that when I get into high school, I want to be just like you,” says Thannisch.