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Starting Off on the Right Foot: Four Steps Towards Building a Positive Mentoring Relationship

Thanks to all who attended the volunteer and mentor happy hour at Tacos and Tequila last Thursday, March 27! Our coordinators had a great time getting to know you and are looking forward to seeing you again next month! If you missed the happy hour, check out the handout below, based on information from “Meaningful Mentoring.

1. Listen attentively

Sit with an open, calm posture. Laugh with your student and show genuine interest in what he/she is saying and doing.
Example Scenario: Your student takes out a book about the Great Barrier Reef and begins talking about it. You listen as your student talks and lean in slightly in your seat.

2. Ask inviting questions

Limit the number of questions you ask your student during your time together
Use “what” or “how” questions. Avoid “why” questions.
Example Scenario: As your student talks about the book, occasionally ask your student “what” he or she likes about the book or “how” she became interested in reading about the Great Barrier Reef.

3. Summarize content and feeling

When your student speaks or does something, occasionally say something that summarizes what he or she said or did
Example Scenario: Show that you were listening to your student by re-stating, in your own words, what you heard him or her say. Include any facts about the Great Barrier Reef that the student seemed most interested in speaking about.

4. Strategic self-disclosure

Tell your student some things about yourself over time. Use your own experiences to further explain something the student is reading or doing to give more context and create better understanding.
Example Scenario: Tell your student about a time when you visited a coral reef. Or tell your student about an interesting book or article that you have been reading and have your student ask you inviting questions this time.

 

 

 

Give the Gift of a Mentor

APIE Mentoring by the Numbers:

  • 972: Number of volunteers who have registered to mentor through APIE for the 2013-14 school year
  • $21,938: Value of volunteer service each WEEK if all 972 are placed, according to Independent Sector’s value of a volunteer hour in Texas
  • $125: APIE’s cost to support one mentor for one school year
  • 124: Number of Austin ISD schools where APIE mentors can serve
  • 4,000: Number of students still on the waiting list for a mentor in Austin ISD

Mentors can positively impact student attitudes and ambitions. Research has proved many benefits of mentoring, including:

  • keeping students in school
  • building students’ self-esteem
  • reducing likelihood of student involvement in risky behavior or use of illicit substances
  • decreasing depressive symptoms
  • improving student grades and academic attitudes
  • Developing students’ communications skills,
  • modeling and encouraging goal setting and taking steps to achieve those goals

To meet the needs of more students, we invite you to Give the Gift of a Mentor this December. Beginning with #GivingTuesday on December 3 and continuing through December 31, APIE’s goal is to raise $10,000 to broaden support for its Mentoring Program. Thanks to a generous $5,000 matching grant challenge from the Oppenheimer Foundation, a private Houston-based family foundation, your donation has the power to double its impact!

About #GivingTuesday

Give the Gift of a Mentor#GivingTuesday is a movement to create a national day of giving to kick off the giving season added to the calendar on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The second annual #GivingTuesday is on December 3, 2013. In the same way that retail stores take part in Black Friday, we want the giving community to come together for #GivingTuesday. (via)

APIE Mentors

Positive Role Models! Heroes! Self-esteem boosters! BFF’s!

These are just a few ways to describe the APIE mentors who work with students throughout Austin ISD.

Unlike the classroom coaching programs at APIE, mentors serve in a non-academic volunteer role. They meet with students during their lunch period and engage in activities such as playing games, drawing, reading, and sharing stories, but primarily engage in conversation. By consistently spending time with these children and listening to them, they build trust and serve as a confidante, problem solver, and sounding board. Mentoring a student can help build self-esteem, increase the likelihood of a child completing school and pursuing post-secondary education, decrease destructive behaviors, and boost academic potential.

APIE mentors meet with their students once a week, usually for 30 minutes at lunch time, throughout the school year. Many of our mentors continue to work with their student as they progress through school; some relationships began as early as 2nd grade and continued through the student’s senior year of high school. In 2012-13, approximately 770 APIE mentors served students in 118 AISD elementary, middle, and high schools. All mentors receive a background check and training. So far in 2013-14, a record 970 volunteers have signed up to mentor through APIE!

School Connections Manager Dawn Lewis and Communication Interns Noah Schubert are working hard to produce a newsletter specifically for mentors. Look for this in the coming months for mentoring tips, best practices, and stories from your fellow mentors!

One Professor’s Experience as a Mentor and Classroom Coach

Mentor and Classroom Coach Robin SmithAs a professor of Social Work at the University of Texas, Robin Smith is dedicated to reducing the achievement gap. She has volunteered with APIE for four years as both a mentor and a reading Classroom Coach, and she wants to return each year as long as she can.

Initially, feelings of obligation pushed Smith to volunteer. After a mother looked her in the eye and told her she’d be a good mentor, she felt as though she should or even had to volunteer. “With my social work background, I thought I would have something to offer a child,” Smith says.

“When I found out more about the commitment I thought it was something very do-able,” Smith says. And she has found it to be a very rewarding, positive experience.

Mentoring

As a mentor, Smith worked to create a relationship with her mentee, building her up and acting as a role model. “The whole experience was about learning to interact with a kid who really wasn’t very social or enthused about the whole arrangement,” Smith says.

Smith took the little girl to the university open house, Explore UT, one year. “It really made an impression on her and she seemed to love it. I think it’s a great way to expose kids who don’t know a lot about college to the college experience.”

Classroom Coaching

Smith found the mentoring and Classroom Coaching experiences “like two different social animals” but both extremely positive. As a mentor, Smith worked one-on-one with a girl, discussing social pursuits. As a Classroom Coach, she entered the classroom with a group of adults to tackle academic hurdles and goals.

The energy in the classroom is something Smith finds contagious. “The girls are lively and engaged, and their reading skills have improved,” Smith says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Although she saw definite improvement, Smith says there were also definite challenges. Last year, it was clear to her that one girl was dealing with depression due to nonacademic obstacles. “I wanted to use my social work skills to bring some understanding to her situation.”

Smith says that reading may have been the least of her worries, but she also knew she could do only so much since Smith was not the student’s social worker.

“I think what makes an impact is when you come to a child’s class every week, and they know you’re not going away.”

Although initially she questioned whether she should push the kid who clearly had other worries, given that she came into class just once a week, eventually Smith decided that even a withdrawn child needs some boundaries. Those help establish and maintain a relationship, Smith says.

If she could leave her students with one message, Smith would tell them to try to go to college. “I know that can be hard, but don’t give up on the idea. [They’re] definitely college material…” she says. “I want them to know they’re smart, worthy, and to continue getting their education.”

Connection to APIE

Not all organizations that use volunteers are so well-organized, Smith says. “There’s just a real positive feel about APIE that I like.” Smith has previously connected APIE to the Social Work undergraduate program director and continues to go into classes to promote its programs.

It’s so nice to have an organization like APIE in the community, Smith says. “I’ve learned a lot about teaching and have personally been enhanced by this experience” with APIE, Smith says. “It is a privilege to be a Classroom Coach.”

Volunteerism

Our days almost always feel jam packed. Volunteering takes up precious time. Between going to work or school, fulfilling family obligations, fitting in crucial time to socialize and maintain relationships, getting in some “you” time, and of course snagging the ever-elusive eight hours of sleep, it’s easy to understand why finding time to volunteer seems difficult if not impossible.

There are 168 hours in a week. Our volunteer opportunities require 45 minutes, plus travel time, each week. That’s roughly 0.59% of the 168 hours. The reality is that, of course, it IS difficult to find the time. But that small percentage of your week has the potential to boost your mood and sense of fulfillment, help you make professional and personal connections, and improve your overall health.

Self-Fulfillment
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteers experience pride and satisfaction from their experiences. And regarding volunteering for APIE in particular, you are strengthening communities, improving the lives of AISD students, making connections, and growing personally.

Personal Connections
Through volunteering, people can expand their personal and professional networks from connections forged with fellow volunteers, teachers, and volunteer coordinators. In addition, volunteers can gain or improve valuable skills, including leadership and knowledge related to a particular field. According to another study by the Corporation for National & Community Service, “…volunteering is linked with a 27 percent increase in odds of employment, and provides ‘social capital and human capital,’ which are directly related with better job prospects.”

Overall Health
UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group company, and VolunteerMatch surveyed 4,500 adults in 2010 and found the following:
• 68% of volunteers agree that “volunteering has made me feel physically healthier”
• 89% of volunteers agree that “volunteering has improved my sense of well-being”
• 73% of volunteers agree that “volunteering lowers my stress levels”

Did you know the Independent Sector places a value on the volunteer hour in Texas at $22.57? Based on that value, APIE volunteers (classroom coaches and mentors combined) in the 2012-13 school year provided more than $975,000 worth of academic and personal support to students in AISD. And we’re betting they feel pretty great about that.

Thanks to all those who volunteer or donate! Our programs would not be successful without your efforts.

The Kids Have Their Say

To wrap up National Mentoring Month, I thought it might be interesting to hear what some students have to say about having mentors in their lives. We asked students from one of the district’s elementary schools to fill us in:

Q: How has your mentor helped you do better in school?

A: They give you a break from school. When you go with them to the library for lunch I’m ready to learn when I go back to class.

A: They are always checking on me asking me how my behavior was this week and did I study hard.

A: They always encourage me to do my best.

A: My mentor helps me understand what I didn’t get in class.

Q: What’s the best part of having a mentor?

A: My mentor makes me feel special.

A: My mentor teaches me new games that I didn’t know how to play before.

A: The best part of having a mentor is hanging with them and having lunch.

A: The parties are the best!

Q: Give me one word that means the same thing as mentor.

A: Caring

A: Kind

A: Helpful

Our list is a little longer: caring, kind, helpful, giving, encouraging, role model, listener, advisor, friend, advocate, guide, teacher… You get the picture. To find out more about how you can be all of that and more, check out our volunteer opportunities at www.austinpartners.org/volunteer.

 

Pat Abrams, Executive Director

Mentors and Helicopters

Being a mentor, when done well, can inspire a child to consider the impossible; like flying a helicopter. At Reilly Elementary School, a unique partnership with the Department of Public Safety is doing just that. Each year more than 85 DPS employees are signing up to mentor students in weekly, one-on-one meetings. They are role models, trusted advisors, and adult friends. They are quiet heroes, who, like pebbles tossed in a pond, never see the ripples they make, touching the lives of students, families and the community where they serve. That is, until they host their annual Helicopter Party!

One way that the Reilly/DPS mentor partnership candemonstrate its impact is through its yearly Helicopter Party.  Visible to everyone who attends the party is the commitment and love these mentors have for their students.  Each May DPS employees plan a party as a final mentoring event for the year.  They design t-shirts and invite their students and some of the school staff who works with the mentor program. Excitement at the school is visible as the day approaches. On the day of the party, the mentors walk together from the neighboring DPS offices to the school to pick up their charges. Then the students and their mentors, along with some of the teachers, staff and administrators walk over to the fields by the DPS offices to celebrate. Police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and yes, a helicopter are on display, inviting the children to explore and make pretend. Food, games, and balloons round out the carnival-like atmosphere.

But this is much more than a play-date. Eyes wide with wonder, these young students witness firsthand what their mentors do outside of their visits to their school; they learn of their mentors’ commitment to the care and protection of their community. And because many of these volunteers have been serving at Reilly for multiple years, these students go home knowing that their mentor will return in the fall and that he or she is someone who can be counted on.

Austin Partners in Education humbly thanks all of our mentors at every school. This year, more than 600 mentors are supporting nearly 900 children. Still, with 87,000 students in Austin ISD, wouldn’t it be wonderful if each child who wanted a mentor could have one? We encourage you to consider volunteering as a mentor each week at an AISD school.  For more information or to register as a mentor, please visit our website at www.austinpartners.org/volunteer .

Anne Buechler,

School Connections Program Manager