Mentors can coach you through scary moments, such as public speaking. (Courtesy photo)

Mentors challenge you to push your limits

Do you know the feeling of doing something challenging yet rewarding and being cheered on by someone who believed you could do it?

This past week at our regular school board meeting, Board President Stevon Cook invited his mentee, Romeo, a 5th grader from John Muir Elementary School, to open the meeting for him. Romeo was seated in the center of the room at the dias with camera lights in his eyes and a mic under his chin surrounded by grown-ups he didn’t know looking at him and waiting for him to speak. This is intimidating for even the most seasoned of public speakers.

Romeo froze. He looked scared. Then, a great thing happened. Everyone in the room started quietly but audibly cheering him on. He clearly felt buoyed by the crowd’s support and delivered the official call to order with confidence.

I doubt Romeo will forget that moment for a long time. Little and big moments like these are happening in our schools all the time. One significant way our students are getting personalized life-changing experiences and support is through mentoring.

Several great community organizations recruit, train and support mentors, but today I want to share more about our district-run Mentoring for Success program. The program is comprised of mostly, though not exclusively, SFUSD employees who commit to mentoring a student. Anyone can become a mentor once they go through training and a background check.

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 school. Mentors help build a sense of school belonging for students who may otherwise feel alone or alienated.

This year 1,000 SFUSD students are matched with a mentor through Mentoring for Success. After having a mentor for just six months, mentees report increases in having an adult at school who cares about them, feeling close to people at school, and knowing how to solve problems.

The impact of mentoring is visible with students’ grades and attendance as well. More than half of students with mentors last year increased their academic performance and nearly half had fewer unexcused absences.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you know someone notices and cares about how you’re doing, it makes a difference.

We hear from our mentors that they find the mentoring experience rewarding too. And we just can’t thank them enough. This week LinkedIn is hosting SFUSD’s annual appreciation event for SFUSD Mentoring for Success mentors.

In addition to staff and community volunteer mentors, SFUSD is also hiring 20 Americorps members to mentor youth and help build community at our schools.

Every child needs caring adults in their lives. Some have more than others. Some need more than others. Every day students ask to have a mentor. With more community volunteers, we could offer even more youth this highly sought-after support.

Mentoring Opportunities

Become a Volunteer Mentor

The next training to get started will be in February

Become a paid AmeriCorps Mentor

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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