by Ella Hou and Feiya Wang, Features Editor, Features Reporter
graphic by Emily Cheng
Every Sunday afternoon, junior Angela Yee plays Mancala and makes arts and crafts with an 11-year-old who, in less than a year, has become like her little sister.
This is just one of the many positive experiences Yee has had as a mentor in the One-to-One Mentoring program, an elective class offered at both North and South. The class matches high school juniors and seniors with elementary or middle school students to give them extra support.
Yee said that the program allows high school students to help younger students in a positive and easygoing environment.
“You just spend time with [the mentees], and for the class, you journal and talk about your experience and how it’s going. It’s a really good way to give back to the community,” she said.
Rebecca Young, the program’s coordinator, said that the unique relationship helps mentees gain valuable social skills.
“Parents often are looking for opportunities for their children to have positive role models … somebody that can help support and build their confidence and self esteem,” she said. “Those are areas really worth practicing — social skills like winning and losing and having good, positive conversations.”
Senior and mentor Duc Tran said that the opportunity to help others and experience personal growth drew him into the program.
“It was a chance for me to learn more about myself. I’m a really passionate person of helping others, and I [felt] like my contribution to the program would be great,” he said.
After being a mentee in elementary school, junior Mica Berman said that becoming a mentor five years later allowed him to give back by creating a similar positive experience for others.
“I created a bond with [my mentors] that I won’t forget. I just wanted to give back that experience to another kid and hopefully be the [mentor] that [mine] were to me,” he said.
Like Berman, senior Nicole Tarasenko had a mentor in elementary school, and she said that she hopes to replicate the positive growth her mentor encouraged.
“I just try to help validate [my mentee] and her experiences and show her that her voice is important,” she said.
In the spring, students speak to their guidance counselor to register for the elective course, and when the class starts in the fall, new mentors fill out an application form to match them with a mentee. Mentors list their home location and weekly schedule, as well as personalities, strengths, interests and life experiences.
Tarasenko said that each of these factors help make sure mentors and mentees are as compatible and suitable for each other as possible.
“The program director looks at a bunch of different things, such as where you live so you could get to each other’s houses quickly. They look at gender, as some kids would benefit from a same-gender match or [a] mixed-gender [match]. Also, [they look at] interests and availability. My [mentee] shares the same nationality as me; we actually look very similar — it’s like a mini-me situation,” she said.
In addition to a two-hour visit with their mentee each week, mentors meet for class to build mentorship skills. Young said that it is important for mentors to be understanding, patient and empathetic so that their mentees can feel safe sharing about themselves.
“We have some [mentees] who have had experiences that may be important for a mentor to be comfortable with. Sometimes it can be a youngster living between two households or having experienced a loss in their life,” she said.
Tran said that learning these skills have helped him create a more welcoming environment for his mentee.
“When it comes to being vulnerable, it’s hard to open up,” he said. “I try to flip that, challenge it and turn it into a conversation where there’s empathy [and] openness.”
Berman said that while building a relationship with a mentee can take a lot of time, the hard work is rewarding in the end.
“For the first few weeks, it was difficult to form a bond. And then there was a day where I made some joke that he liked. That small step in the right direction started to build up,” he said. “Now I’m going on walks with him, playing Just Dance with him and playing board games and hide-and-seek and tag and all of the above. It’s really grown from where we started.”
Through weekly visits over the last two years, Tarasenko said that she and her mentee have grown closer together.
“A lot of the time when we’re together, we crack jokes and we make each other laugh,” she said.
The program fosters growth and positivity within the community, which Young said is mutually beneficial for mentors and mentees.
“Building relationships between teens and kids is really valuable, [as well as] the connections that families sometimes make in this experience,” she said. “[It] provides an opportunity for a feeling of belonging.”
In addition to connecting with a young person, mentors learn responsibility and communication skills, Brent O’Neill, a graduate student at Boston University who is interning at the program, said.
“For many students, this is the first time they’ve been accountable for another human being’s wellbeing, [having] the responsibility of knowing where a young person is, and making sure the young person stays safe when you’re out in public,” he said.
Yee said that her connection with her mentee has been a source of development for herself as well.
“It’s definitely helped me grow in the sense that, seeing how she is, it’s reminded me of myself, and I get to reflect on that,” she said.
O’Neill said that these meaningful bonds can have long-lasting positive impacts.
“Mentors may never even know the impact that they have on these kids,” he said. “But what we do know from what they’ve shared is that having an older person, a mentor, a friend who is interested in you, is a life changing experience for many people.”