Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Compounded mentoring moments

I guess the school year has gotten into that slump where there isn't anything drastically new to report from my volunteer/tutor sessions, so today I'll be talking about how I've developed mentor relationships that start from "mentoring moments" as our Executive Director calls them.

This came up for a number of reasons. Yesterday I went to an info session about my AmeriCorps program, the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship, a service program that partners with Northeastern University and focuses on serving youth across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Fellow projects range from developing after-school programs, providing educational support, developing youth leadership and work-related skills, training youth workers, to free college financial aid guidance, and other youth related projects.

One of my fellow Fellows asked the question, "After our year of service, how do we let go of our youth?" I almost started crying right then and there because I thought about the youth I had grown to love and care for; having to say goodbye would kill me. It's interesting because there are certain students that I would not (and could not) say goodbye to, while there have been other individuals in my life who did not evoke the same upswell of emotions and tears as these students. Some of these kids I've known for a little over a year, and others I've only met this year. But as a collective, I've really come to enjoy working with and seeing these different groups of kids weekly.

For the new students I've only met this year, it was tough to start off a year not knowing what to expect and knowing very little about their situations that led them to our tutoring partnerships. But as time goes on, we've built relationships slowly from week to week. At first the students were wary of me being in the classroom at all, but I notice a little excitement when I come for tutoring. The students jump out of their seats and say hi to me. The other students I don't work with look towards our group questioningly, and in some cases, they come right over and ask to work with us.

I'm pretty sure it's the consistency that really helps tutoring and mentoring relationships. Sometimes it's a matter of personality matching as well, but for me, I've had good relationships with the students I'm working with. The kids (myself included) really look foward to working together every week on our scheduled day. There was a point where I had to switch my schedule around, and the kids questioned me "Don't you come on X day?" I've also gotten to a place where the students work so well that we have extra time to chat and get to know each other beyond the math, or their schoolwork.

The "mentoring moments" were originally used in the context of the Big Cheese Reads (BCR) program at Boston Partners in Education. The BCR program asks for community, government, corporate, and public figures to come into a middle school classroom and read an inspirational and student relevant short story or excerpt. Afterwards, the Big Cheese Readers talk about their experiences growing up, getting work experience, and how they got to where they are now. The BCReaders also field questions from students taht range from "How do you get an internship?" to "What's your favorite TV show?" The Big Cheese Reads program is a mentoring moment where students are exposed to a life they may not get to glimpse into, and hopefully learn and grow from it.

I've taken the phrase to apply to my weekly meetings with my different students. There are weeks where we don't have a chance to talk about subjects other than math. And there are weeks where the students don't really feel like talking at all. On some level, I don't really feel like a true mentor who guides young people through difficult lifestages and turning points. Sometimes I feel more like just an academic tutor, however, there are those moments when I feel like I've really made a difference, or that I've expanded their world a little bit just by talking frankly about something. I notice these passing moments when it's significant to me, but I wouldn't be surprised if my students have many more of these significant moments when they learn something about me, the world, or themselves.

And to be honest, I don't have enough time to get to know these young people enough. I always want more! Last year, I was fortunate to go to MathSTARS twice a week, but this year I only have time for once a week. If things were up to me, I would go all four days a week. Every week, I only manage to speak one-on-one with a handful of the kids, but it's the little things and the short conversations that add up to make me so darn emotional!

Sometimes I think, "Did I really help these kids today with their work?" but sometimes it doesn't matter so much. It matters that I was there when they were expecting me. At the meeting yesterday, one of my fellow Fellows said that she got an email from a youth she had worked with years before and she didn't realize how much of an impact she had made until she got the email. In the now, it's hard to gauge how much your presence is making a difference, but in the long run, I hope these kids will remember me and our time together. I know I'll look back fondly on this year of service, and the students I worked with.


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