Even if students sign up for and work hard in advanced science and math courses, they often need help to do well in them. Increasingly, they have no one to ask for that help. Students interact with few adults in this era of nuclear-family households, parents are home with their teens much less often today, and many more students progress beyond their parents’ level of expertise.
One reason for the persistent achievement gap between African-American students and others in developing nations is that a greater proportion of them come from less wealthy families; and the well-off families hire tutors at an astounding rate in this city. This only exaggerates the natural advantages correlated with higher socioeconomic status. With the rigorous high school requirements, we know that Educom mentoring is critical to helping our children succeed in their classrooms and meet these graduation standards.
But academic help is not all that our under-achieving students need. Our mentoring is also designed to help them develop “soft skills”: interacting with teachers and the school environment (how to act, where to sit, when and how to ask for help), time management and organization, selection of friends with values and goals in mind, handling academic pressure. We also address the motivational issues that can hold young people back. We believe that developing a career goal can add the missing elements of self-discipline, personal responsibility, and enthusiasm for academics.
Academic and Personal Mentoring
We offer academic support, as much as possible, to those who need it most — those having serious difficulty in core math and science courses and no one to turn to for help. In the past, it was difficult to realize this intention, because these students are also the least likely to take advantage of our mentoring program.
Academic mentoring formally consists of meeting one-on-one with an adult volunteer who is committed to meeting at least once a week for at least a semester. Most of our mentors go beyond that, meeting longer and more often, and staying with the same mentee year after year. As we work with our teens, we offer training and support for a variety of needs encompassing reading, writing research papers, study and test-taking skills, to time-management strategies.
Our volunteer mentors are able to offer such comprehensive assistance because of our thorough, ongoing training. We offer a series of workshops that are meant to be cycled through every year, offering a deeper engagement and reinforcing skills with each iteration. These workshops are expressly designed for the personal benefit of mentors as well as mentees. Those offered to date: Personal and Healthy Boundaries, Understanding Feelings and Emotions, Intentional Dialogue,The Power of What I Say, Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences, and Exploring Gifts, Talents and Passions.
We believe that career exploration is important not just for helping our young people to map out life paths, but also to provide meaning for what they are learning. Every teacher has heard, “When are we ever going to use this stuff?” and many parents have confronted a teen’s unwillingness to pursue rigorous science and math study over more “fun” electives. We believe that students are much more interested and motivated to work hard at learning when they see a connection between academic subjects and attractive careers. When teens are intrinsically motivated — doing something for their own reasons — they no longer need our prodding or nagging. Moreover, neurological research shows that, even if a topic makes sense to a learner, it must also have personal relevance in order to be remembered. So, understanding the real-world applications of academic learning can actually make for more effective study.
This is another program that we will develop and pilot with community partners. This process will be capped with an on-site investigation of a particular career of high interest — a tour, interview, or job shadowing experience. We do not expect this to fill all of a student’s guidance needs, but it models exactly the kind of investigation teens can continue on their own before investing too much time, money, or effort in the pursuit of fields that may not match their passions, interests, and talents. Too many of our undergraduate volunteers “wake up” as juniors or seniors to this kind of revelation. We think that can be avoided.
We envision training and posting on our website a wide array of business, retiree, and Educom alumni partners who have been trained to be career mentors with Educom. Our youth will likely enjoy several career mentors with us during their middle and high school experience. During middle school, career mentors offer children the opportunity to learn about their learning styles, their personalities, their gifts and talents, and most importantly their passions and hopes for their futures in the workforce. Children gain knowledge about themselves during this career mentoring time and bond with an adult who can listen to them and guide them in becoming more self-aware of who they are and the many choices that await them in their near future. As part of this process, mentees will also learn how to dress and to prepare for these interactions, to relate to adults, and to observe niceties such as sending thank-you notes afterward.
In high school, career mentors are matched more specifically with their teens according to the jobs and careers that they have explored in middle school and choose to investigate more thoroughly as they are defining goals and plans after graduation. These career mentors are trained and supported to assist their youth with looking at related job and career areas in a field such as auto trades and engineering, health care and research, counselling and education,
architecture and construction, etc. We provide youth the chance to see the range of jobs and careers that are within a field and the varying levels and kinds of post–high school training and education available.
Our students meet people who can share the job and training/education paths they took to get where they are today. Teens come to recognize that there are many options available to them, that few people are certain what they want to do for their life work, and that they will most likely have several jobs and careers in their life time. Teens come to recognize that continuing education is a given in any field and that every learning and job experience is a building block for future employment. They have a road map for how to get from where they are to where they want to go.
Community and On-Line Career Resources
As noted above, we solicit business and other community volunteers to offer career presentations, work-place tours, and job shadowing opportunities. These resources are then available to our career mentoring programs and, whenever possible, will be posted on our website. Educom staff and Chamber members with this interest will be instrumental in recruiting, interviewing, and posting job shadowing and tour resources on the web and
communicating available resources to site coordinators and mentors.
We plan to use video technology to similarly extend the reach of our tours and job shadowing. A recording of such experiences can make them available to vastly greater numbers of people — with less disruption in the work environment