Opinion
Education Opinion

Mentoring: It takes a village

By Jessica Shyu — January 01, 2009 2 min read

Happy New Year! First off, there’s a great discussion going on about Michelle Rhee’s philosophy and tactics for ed reform. I’m currently on vacation in Taiwan for lots of family time and limited Web time. I can’t wait to jump back in to the conversation when I return on January 13th, but in the meantime, keep the passionate debate going!

Secondly, this article on the enormous impact of mentoring caught my attention on Christmas: Mentor Helps Hispanic Teens Stay in School.” It profiles the work of amazing people out there who are neither certified teachers nor child development specialists nor experts on character development. Rather, they are the everyday wonders who are personal and positive supporters, cheerleaders, tutors, educators and role models for many kids from underprivileged backgrounds.

This reminded me of my current-favorite commercial out there by Big Brothers, Big Sisters, set out to recruit mentors for youth...

... which reminded me of a heartfelt conversation I had a couple weeks ago with a family member during parent-teacher conference day at Anacostia High School. The older gentleman was missing a number of teeth and walked with a limp. He had grown up “doing shady things” in the streets of Anacostia growing up and had learned a lot of things the hard way. But because he had a mentor through church, he figured out the right way to go. Over the years, he also became a mentor to other boys to help make sure they stayed in school and stay optimistic. He passionately and eloquently insisted that the key to closing the achievement gap in the roughest and poorest parts of DC was having mentors for each and every child so they would always have a strong and positive support system...

... which reminded me of an old friend, a Boeing engineer with no previously known interest in children, who decided to become a mentor in his Seattle community on a whim. Imagine my surprise when he mentioned this a week ago. He just came back from a ropes course and is now working to build a trusting relationship with boys with emotional and behavioral issues...

... which reminds me of the most incredible senior in Washington, DC, my mentee “Wendy.” She arrived from China just three years ago knowing barely any English. Today, she can read, write and speak English with ease. She takes AP courses along with French and Spanish, and volunteers at a soup kitchen and at her school’s Math Lab. We were paired up this past summer through Asian American LEAD, a nonprofit organization working to support under-resourced communities in DC.

We work on her college and scholarship applications, among other things. She’s done an amazing job on her own over the past few years, but there’s so much more information, support and help she needs to make this final push to college so she could pursue her dream of becoming an architect...

And what does she want to do immediately after college? Join the Peace Corps, so she could give back to people with the greatest need around the world. Mentoring is education. And education has a neat habit of coming full circle.

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.