January 31, 2014

Mentoring High School Students

This blog post is a translation of this article.

The last two years of high school are extremely important for all young people in our communities, not least in Latino communities. Regardless of their social class, cultural or ethnic values these youngsters are getting the same message from their parents, teachers, and counselors in high school or vocational schools during those decisive and complicated years.
The message is that not only should they continue studying hard and getting good grades but that they also need to start planning their curricula in order to apply and be accepted to community colleges or universities after graduation. If they do not want to go to college, they need support to determine which vocational careers they might want to choose according to their interests and talents. 

Regardless of what they choose for their post high school path, they all need the same amount of support, and the more people around them offering to help them, the better and easier it is for them to make decisions, particularly if they feel supported by people who can show them that starting a career is not only important for them but for the good of their communities and society as well.

Many Episcopal churches have established academic support programs and extracurricular after-school activities, including a mentoring program for students who want to explore college or vocational careers. 

For high school students, the experience of having a mentor, separate from a school counselor, gives them an opportunity for their voices to be heard with interest, enthusiasm and admiration. They receive advice from someone who is not only committed to helping them follow their dreams and aspirations, but who is their faithful companion during the lengthy and complicated process of exploring, choosing, visiting, and applying to schools and then waiting for the arrival of the eagerly anticipated letter of acceptance or rejection, and ultimately giving them the support they may need when that decision arrives.

As I mentioned before, serving as mentors to young Latinos in our communities is extremely important. Often those we mentor are the first ones in the family to attend a community college, university or vocational school. At home, that experience often generates feelings that vary from a mixture of joy, high expectations or fear of failure, to the anxiety of not being able to cover the expenses of a college career. 

Counseling these youngsters to keep focused on their studies, to get good grades at school and in their admissions exams is crucial during these years. Aside from good grades, it is also important to have experience in community work, good writing skills, and to develop their gifts and talents that show leadership in what they love to do at that particular time in their lives, as well as being able to communicate and express themselves with conviction and clarity. All of these are keys to being accepted to college or vocational programs.

For mentors, the experience is invaluable and transforming. It is enjoying the blessing of being able to walk side by side with a young person, always listening and helping him or her reflect honestly on themselves. It is sharing practical knowledge, particularly in ways to search for schools and universities that may be suitable for their aspirations and it is offering with love and sincerity what each mentor believes to be best plan for each young person. Within our faith communities, it is also a way to tighten the spiritual bonds with our youngsters who so need them during those important decision-making years. It is the true giving-and-receiving that is at the center of Christ’s call to follow Him in his ministry of service to the people of God.