By Christine Bryant
As a mentor, Cathy Collins has seen firsthand the impact one person can make in a student’s life.
Now entering her third year with the Columbus City Schools Mentoring Program, Collins works with high school seniors to help them overcome any challenges they are facing that may make the path to graduation more difficult.
“Sometimes it is just a non-judgmental third party neutral to listen to what is going on in their life,” she said.
Make no mistake, however. Being a part of a mentoring program can be just as rewarding for the mentor as the mentee, she says.
“My friends can attest to the energy I gain during the mentoring sessions,” Collins said. “Connecting with young people keeps me young.”
The Columbus City Schools Mentoring Program has provided a way for residents like Collins to positively change the trajectory of a young person’s life.
Keisha Hunley-Jenkins, senior director of Mentoring & Student Initiatives for the district, says mentors help youth reach their full potential and can make a difference in the life of a child who is struggling.
As part of the district’s program that runs through the Office of Student Mentoring Initiatives (OSMI), mentors work with students – mostly seniors – to make sure they are fulfilling graduation requirements and to help them determine what their future holds after graduation.
The mentor program does not focus solely on academics, but instead on problem solving and creating measurable goals. Principals identify students who are off track with graduation requirements, whether it’s in terms of testing, required internship hours or credit attainment.
The mentors then work with the students on creating a plan that puts them on a path to success while addressing any challenges that may occur along the way.
“(The mentors) are there to help them navigate some of the challenges they may be facing at school or at home, or in other areas,” Hunley-Jenkins said. “Our training is all about relationship building so that trust is built and the mentee will open up about what their goals are.”
About 200 students have participated each year in the program since it began in 2016, and Hunley-Jenkins says the program already has made a difference in helping the students focus on improving life skills and managing life situations.
In the 2018-2019 school year, 97 percent of the off-track seniors who participated in the CCS Mentoring Program graduated from high school, she said.
“These kids are brilliant,” she said. “It has everything to do with what they want and channeling their energy into getting what they want.”
Currently, there are 16 high schools participating, though program advisers hope to recruit more mentors to expand to other schools in the district.
To qualify, CCS mentors must:
• Complete a CCS background check, at the district’s expense
• Complete an OSMI mentor training session
• Meet with a student for one hour each week during a designated time during the school year
• Complete a weekly online mentor activity log
During the one-on-one sessions, mentors work with the mentee to develop high school and post-high school graduation goals and action plans, as well as assist the mentee with developing problem-solving skills that will help with navigating academic, personal, professional and life circumstances.
“Social-emotional learning is the foundation for anyone’s success. It’s through relationships that we grow,” Hunley-Jenkins said. “While we’re here to educate kids, we need to realize that solely focusing on the ABCs isn’t going to get it done.”
The CCS Mentoring Program assists with fulfilling a component, mentorship and relationship building, that many kids do not have or experience, which often gets in the way of success. Hunley-Jenkins says adults in the community, no matter their profession, age or current circumstances, have something to offer students.
“Wherever you are in your life, you have experiences that these kids can benefit from,” she said.
While traditional mentor-mentee programs often place the two participants together, in the CCS Mentoring Program, students interview mentors and relay their preferences for a match to the program advisers.
This provides a conversation starting point when the mentor and mentee first meet, Hunley-Jenkins said.
“The mentor can sit down with them and talk to them about what they hope to get out of the relationship and why they picked them,” she said.
Collins, who works in public safety for the city of Columbus, offered her mentees the opportunity to learn about her career with the Columbus Police Department and in the Support Services Division of the Department of Public Safety.
“I hoped to offer a student that, I, as a graduate of Columbus City Schools, can go on to college and a long successful career,” she said.
The positive experience goes both ways, she says.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be part of the success of a student,” Collins said. “Most students get a bad rap on attitude. I found both my students to be energetic, cheerful and, eventually, driven.”
She advises others who become mentors with the program to be patient and be there for the students every week.
“Work on weekly goals with them, even if it’s to have them research a current event,” she said. “You may be the difference between them graduating or not.”
For more information about the Columbus City Schools Mentoring Program, or to apply, go to ccsoh.us/Mentorship.