One fact I’ve learned from my experience working with kids in economically disadvantaged areas of Dallas this past summer is how critical mentoring can be to the educational achievement of a child.
Children are faced with instructors of various types – their teachers in school, their parents, their sports coaches, and the supervisors at the volunteer centers in which they spend their days. But oftentimes the guidance that an adult provides falls on deaf ears compared to the guidance offered by a mentor who is closer to their age.
A mentor is a powerful role model for a young student because a mentor represents a physical embodiment of achievement and the results of positive habits. While an adult can offer advice or chastise a child for acting out, working with a mentor shows to the student that they can accomplish success if they work hard.
I worked with a group of third-graders on a research project this summer, and one of my students was researching Slinkys, their history, and how they came to be, and ran into a rut because he couldn’t find anything interesting about Slinkys. As a part of the project, the students had to find a certain number of articles and “wow facts” to create a power point presentation, and he was becoming frustrated and didn’t want to finish his project. I guided the student with some questions, and asked to look into who invented Slinkys, and to research into their life, and sure enough, he found out that Richard T James, the inventor of the Slinky, came up with the original branding message and jingle during his time with a cult in Bolivia!
Sometimes students need a push and reinforcement to peak their curiosity to want to reach the expectations their instructors have for them. Just as in Homer’s Odyssey when Telemachus needed the eponymous Mentor’s guidance to achieve his destiny of saving his father, mentors can have a tremendous impact on a student’s life even in day-to-day activities.
Over this past summer, Dallas has been a haven for refugees from crisis-stricken Iraq and Syria, while also assisting federal agencies with the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Many Dallas advocacy organizations, nonprofits, and county officials are staying engaged in the issue to ensure Dallas is a proactive, supportive place.
Supporting Immigration Agencies
In July, Dallas Country announced that it would be housing nearly 2000 immigrant children who have been held in detention facilities. The children were to be relocated to existing facilities run by local nonprofits, and would have been integrated into the DISD and RISD school districts in Dallas and Collin counties. The County changed its plans due to federal facilities overestimating their facilities’ occupancy, but will be providing legal support to stay engaged in the process.
Vickery Meadow has also provided assistance to refugees from Iraq and Syria, many of whom came to the United States to escape the conditions of the ongoing civil war and to obtain a higher standard of living and education for their children. Many of these children will be attending local school districts including DISD and RISD. Local nonprofits are working to ease the transition into American schools by providing ESL and language education support to refugees in Dallas.
When I first volunteered at the Kids U tutoring program, I had no idea what to expect. I was working with kids from a different generation, from a different demographic, with different educational needs than what I was used to. After spending my first day on site, these doubts melted away.
On my first day, the coordinator and I went to pick up the children from their previous activity at school and walked them back to the apartment complex where the tutoring facility is located. I introduced myself to some of the children, and two of them started clinging to me as I held their hands on the walk back. I was amazed at how quickly we were able to connect, and for them to become attached to me – the children began squabbling about which one of them I looked most similar to. I had become a mentor figure to them by merely making the commitment to spend my day working with them.
Once we got back to the site, I began helping second- and third-graders with their activities. Each student had to complete a math and reading worksheet to practice their skills before beginning their summer homework. I promised the students that if they finished their work early, we could do an activity with Play-Doh®. This served as a strong motivator to the kids, who scrambled to finish their activities. I made sure they got all their questions correct before moving forward.
Once the children finished their activities, I helped them make X’s and O’s out of Play-Doh so we could play tic-tac-toe. The students meticulously crafted their pieces, and we played tic-tac-toe to celebrate. At the end of the day, one of my students handed me a note that she had been working on the whole class. It was a thank-you note for being her tutor, and she asked if I could be her teacher tomorrow and every day. This melted my heart and made the whole experience worthwhile. It is experiences like this that make my work with DISD worthwhile.