Whitman Mentor Program
The Impact of Being There
I look up from a textbook and check my weekly schedule that's posted above my desk on my wall. Honestly, the schedule is a mess. I have a history of spreading myself too thin. My week boils down to colored squares that represent tasks and activities. Sometimes the weeks aren't that simple. No matter what comes up in a week, one block of time doesn't change: my time with my Mentee at Sharpstein Elementary School down Park Street. It's likely that I have a paper due at 4 PM and somewhere else to be at noon but that's just how it goes. But this morning, my fifth grade Mentee named Tanner is my #1 priority. For the past few years, I've been fortunate enough to put Tanner first on a weekly basis. Although a weekly recess period does not feel like sufficient time, I know that Tanner appreciates it.
So I'm painting quite the idyllic picture of the Whitman Mentor Program right now. Is it always this simple? Am I just perfect (NOPE)? Is an hour per week all it takes to forge a meaningful relationship with an elementary-aged child who might need some extra support? To answer these questions, I'll take a moment to explain my background with the Whitman Mentor Program and ultimately explain why I believe in the value of mentoring relationships.
Since August, I've been fortunate enough to fill the role of Intern for the Whitman Mentor Program. I valued my experience with the program and wanted to take it to the next level. I thought I understood how the Mentor Program had a special place in the Whitman community but I had no idea. Only after receiving and reading nearly 200 applications from Whitman students did I comprehend how passionate Whitties are about children. It's fantastic. I was dumbfounded. I felt as if I were the man behind the curtain as Allison Burns (my better half - the other Mentor Intern) and I matched Mentors with Mentees according to compatibility, schedule constraints, and need, among other factors. As much time as I spent matching, it didn't feel like enough involvement in the pairings. I struggle with the fact that I'll never get a full taste of each and every mentoring relationship in the program as I'm essentially nothing but a middleman. However, hearing anecdotes from delighted Mentors and receiving a pat on the back in the form of an email from content Intervention Specialist from the elementary schools make it worth it.
"I'll never forget the people who listened to my stories
and giggled when I made 'awesome' jokes in third grade."
As much as I preach, I do not believe that mentoring relationships can save the world. When Whitties agree to Mentoring for an academic year, they even sign a form that clearly states that they should not expect to be a savior, psychological, counselor, educator, or social worker for their Mentee. Instead, we ask that a Mentor be consistent face in their Mentee's life. In just an hour per week, a Mentor will have an impact. It may seem marginal at the time but I'll bet you $23 that a Mentee will not forget their Mentor's name by the time they turn 20. Like many Mentees, I wasn't taken seriously when I was young. I'll never forget the people who listened to my stories and giggled when I made "awesome" jokes in third grade. In short, there is no archetypal Mentor experience. The effect of a mentoring relationship may not be immediate, but there's value to the time given.
We learn by watching others around us. Elementary-aged children literately and figuratively look up to individuals - Whitties, in this case - who represent success, confidence, and drive. Mentoring relationships are not supposed to be something that we have to "give back" to certain group of people. I conclude with the idea that it takes two to form a mentoring relationship and that both parties gain from the relationship. As much as we would like to create binaries like "experience vs. naïve" and pin them to mentoring relationships, I believe that it isn't that simple. Mentoring relationships are humbling, learning experiences that everyone should get a chance to experience.
For more information on the Whitman Mentor Program, click here.