Whatever their life circumstances, every child needs and deserves to have at the very least a few caring and trusted adults in their life.
For children and youth, it can sometimes be difficult to go to family members or teachers for support. For some, making friends with peers is challenging so they rely even more on adults to help them build the social skills and self-esteem that can lead to more peer friendships. At a time when personal connections are more complicated by the pandemic, having a caring adult they can rely on and enjoy creative activities with from a distance is even more important.
It’s National Mentoring Month and a chance to share my gratitude that here in San Francisco several great community organizations recruit, train and support mentors who support our city’s youth. We even have a mentoring program run by San Francisco Unified School District that’s comprised mostly, though not exclusively, of SFUSD employees who commit to mentoring a student. Here are just a few stories about the mentors serving 400 SFUSD students.
In recent months, mentors have extended their caring connection beyond the child to their family due to the challenges that have arisen from the pandemic. One mentor has linked her student’s mother to food resources, and has even dropped off some groceries at her doorstep. She helped the family fill out forms so they have access to meals, and has worked closely with the school social worker in ensuring they are linked to other resources as well.
Even with distance learning and having two small ones at home, another mentor found a way to continue activities with her mentee via Zoom. They continue their cooking lessons by planning with what the mentee has in her kitchen and then the mentor will gather the same supplies. They continue to read together by allowing her mentee to choose the books she’d like to read, then the mentor finds them and shares them on screen.
A third mentor has gone above and beyond to foster a positive relationship with her mentee this year. She has never met her mentee in person, and yet was able to build a strong foundation and connect with her regularly over Zoom. The two have since discovered that they have many things in common, and they enjoy doing puzzles and chatting during their weekly meetings.
The benefits of mentoring extend beyond the person being mentored. Adults who want to make a significant impact on the life of a child should really consider becoming a formal or informal mentor. We believe mentoring is so important that at SFUSD we began our own program called Mentoring for Success to match caring adults with youth in need. We provide trainings, ongoing support and of course background checks.
By becoming part of a community of mentors and mentees, mentors help build social capital and leadership experiences with youth. They help them become part of their community and navigate the day-to-day joys and challenges of life and school. Mentors help build a sense of school belonging for students who may otherwise feel alone or alienated.
Thanks to LinkedIn and a special group of Healthy Choices AmeriCorps members, we will be celebrating all mentors, with some special honorees who go above and beyond the call of duty, at our virtual National Mentoring Month appreciation event, We Take Our Hats Off to Mentors, on Jan. 28 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Whether helping their mentee with homework, playing Kahoot!, sharing in virtual cooking activities, or simply listening to what’s important to their mentee, we know the persistence and innovation of our mentors will pay off to prevent learning loss and to help keep hundreds of our students engaged in school.
Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of schools for the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.