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Day 08/06/2015

Mentor a child, change her life…*

Mentor a child…*

About a year ago, an acquaintance of mine from college made a Facebook post that deeply affected me. This man was currently attending a prestigious business school, had already worked a few years at a prestigious financial firm, and graduated with me from a top liberal arts school. His post was a picture of himself and his mentor from the program Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring organization that creates relationships that transform children’s lives. In the post, he credited his mentor for helping him obtain the life he has today. I was so moved that I immediately started googling “mentoring in NYC,” determined to make the kind of impact that his mentor did.

In a nation-wide study of Big Brothers Big Sisters, researchers found that children who were randomly assigned to the program versus those not yet in the program were more confident about school performance, had better relationships with their families, and were:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
  • 52% less likely to skip school
  • 37% less likely to skip a class
  • 33% less likely to hit someone

(source: bbs.org)

With results like that, it seems like creating one-to-one partnerships could be one powerful solution for improving educational outcomes for low-SES students.

My Mentoring Experience…*

I’m not completely new to the mentoring game. In college, I led a small female-oriented mentoring group called Ophelia’s Girls that worked in group sessions with middle school and high school students in a nearby very rural town. We provided a safe space for students to talk and aimed to serve as role models for these girls who – statistically speaking – were likely to drop out of high school before graduating.

As a 20-something, I was now hoping to have more of a one-on-one relationship where I could potentially make a greater impact on one girls’ life. I ultimately chose to participate in iMentor, a school-based mentoring program where matches email once per week and see one another at least one time each month. iMentor’s mission is to build  “mentoring relationships that empower students from low-income communities to graduate high school, succeed in college, and achieve their ambitions.” Students participate in iMentor through their high schools, where they have iMentor class once a week and stay after school for events that generally revolve around college preparedness and goal-setting.

One year ago, I signed up for a three-year match in the College Transition Program with a student that I would mentor from 11th grade through her first year of college. I was matched with Madina*, a girl living in Brooklyn who had just moved from Uzbekistan a few years ago. Over the past 10 months, we have slowly built a relationship, navigating a strong language barrier and a myriad of cultural differences. Madina speaks 3 languages fluently but still has a lot of trouble communicating in English. She juggles working a night job with her schoolwork and helps her parents take care of her younger sister. She knows she wants to go to college, but she lacks a tremendous amount of cultural capital around what college is and what different occupations entail. Together, we struggle to stay openminded about each other’s customs and cultures; she is from a conservative Muslim background, and I am a fairly liberal Jew.

When I first signed up for the program, I was prepared to help change somebody’s life. What I didn’t expect was how much she would change mine. I never fully understood the barriers immigrant students face every day. I also have been blown away by her kindness and generosity – she got me a birthday present and has cooked her favorite foods for me to try. It has been challenging to get her to open up, but as she has I have been fascinated by her life and world. It is unbelievable how vastly different our lives are, and I learn something new from her every day.

The Power of Mentoring…*

I’m not the only one thinking about how important mentoring is for low-SES students. In Michael Benko’s TEDxOU talk, he also speaks to the power of having a person investing in your life at a young age. Currently, there is a 1:500 ratio of guidance counselors to students in our school system. Benko’s idea is to give everyone their own success counselor, matching college students with high school students online.

In Lori Hunt’s TEDxCCS talk, she talks about the power of mentoring. She first talks about her struggles in the beginning of college, failing courses at a 4-year college she was not academically prepared for. Lori actually does not advocate for a particular program, but instead talks about informal mentors – the types of mentorships that occur organically. Her work study advisor became her mentor, helping her find the tools to make the right decision. She, like my friend from college, credits her with changing her life.

 

There are many avenues to mentoring. The bottom line is that these experiences are challenging at times but immensely life-changing on both sides of the match. If you are not already, I’d urge you to get involved in a mentoringship – it will open your eyes and could help change the trajectory of someone’s life.

 

 

*Name and some facts changed to protect her privacy.

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