Photos provided by Elizabeth Hallmark
NOTE: THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE. SEE ALL D & C ARTICLES.
Whose message will students really hear? From teachers, principals, coaches, parents, their peers? At Charlotte High School, a recently completed mentoring program brought new voices directly into the classroom and the hallways: Rochester Institute of Technology undergrads, themselves only a few years removed from high school, eager and able to be role models in action.
Throughout the District, college students have often served as after school tutors. For example, the University of Rochester has a great program utilized across the board. The RIT-Charlotte See Your Future Experience (SYFE) partnership took college student involvement to a new level.
Funded by a three year School Improvement Grant facilitated by Mr. Eulus Boyd, Dr. Elizabeth Hallmark, and Dr. Makini Beck, the program brought 15 RIT students to the Charlotte campus where they assisted in 12 different ninth grade classrooms Monday through Thursday. Spending an average 15 – 20 hours per week on campus, each mentor was fully immersed in the life of the school: helping teachers, working one-on-one with students needing extra help, tutoring in the “Charlotte Pit Stop” room that served as SYFE headquarters, walking and monitoring the halls, hanging out in the cafeteria, always available to talk in a language the younger students can understand.
In addition, after school the program offered tutoring two days a week and three clubs run by the SYFE mentors: a media club that teaches digital literacy, and two social groups – Guy’s Huddle and Girl Talk. Field trips were designed to align with Charlotte’s academies of Hospitality & Tourism and Business & Finance. For incoming freshmen, there were three-week summer camp experiences at RIT focusing on academic learning, college & career exploration, and community building in preparation for high school.
Fundamentally, the program worked because the mentors are what the high schoolers want to be in just a few short years: successful college students. Obviously, the mentors knew what it took to graduate from high school, and are now thriving in college. Remember, the mentors themselves were pursuing heavy course loads. The Charlotte kids saw firsthand RIT students getting it done.
From what I observed, the mentors don’t sugarcoat academic reality. They are upfront that the approach of too many of the high schoolers just won’t cut it at the next level. Professors won’t be constantly monitoring and holding hands. Doing work doesn’t mean regurgitating facts and simply filling out worksheets half attentively. They will need to understand and internalize the material.
Several of the mentors come from similar backgrounds as the Charlotte students. Sometimes it makes a difference. As one young woman told me, she tries to demonstrate that being successful doesn’t have to mean losing your identity or selling out.
Perhaps the highest praise came from a ninth grade girl I spoke with after the program had ended a couple of weeks earlier. She said that after the mentors left, Charlotte wasn’t quite the same. People were slacking, coming late to class or not showing up. She had also been part of the Girl Talk social club. She said the mentors helped the girls gain self esteem and confidence. She went as far to say that several girls might have stopped cutting themselves because of the support the club offered.
We don’t yet have the metrics to know the exact impact of SYFE. But I am guessing it was substantial. No doubt there will be similar programs in the future. If See Your Future Experience is the model, the results can only be positive.
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