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Middle school can be a challenging time for many adolescents. LA Team Mentoring (LATM) is a local no...

Q&A with Los Angeles Team Mentoring: Empowering Youth Success

February 27th, 2013

Middle school can be a challenging time for many adolescents. LA Team Mentoring (LATM) is a local nonprofit that helps middle school aged youth make positive choices for their future. LATM’s after school program brings together a three person mentoring team, comprised of teachers, college students and community or corporate members. The team is then matched with a small group of adolescents. Learn how youth are being empowered to succeed in this Q&A with William Figueroa, Program Director, and Sabrina Vegnone, Executive Director, for LA Team Mentoring.

Why is it important to begin the mentoring process in middle school aged youth? Does early mentoring enhance its effects?

The middle school years are critical time of young person’s development and a time when values, principles, behaviors and attitudes are formed. We are rapidly changing emotionally, intellectually and physically but moreover, are transitioning from our safe and friendly elementary school environment to a middle school environment where we feel pressured to fit it and achieve academically. Additionally, we struggle with self-esteem, begin to try new things, challenge authority and push boundaries. It’s this new freedom and questionable self-esteem that puts us at a crossroad that can either lead to path of success or a path of adversity. At this age, students are also seeking more independence from their families, and may no longer see parents and/or guardians as the best source of guidance and advice. As a result, surrounding students with a positive peer group and caring adults is critical as they develop into young adults. With the proper guidance and mentoring in place, young adolescents are better able to navigate through the tricky middle school years and initiate a path that leads to healthier choices, higher self-esteem and ultimately, a future of achievement and success.

According to the California Department of Education, student drop-out rates increase significantly during high school. What factors contribute to this raise?

Research shows there is no single factor why students drop out in high school but contributing factors include: uninterested in classes, inability to perform academically at the high school level, lack of parental support, depression, having to work to support family, bullied, too many absences to catch up, etc. As a result of the peer and adult support students receive in LATM’s mentoring programs, our students demonstrate increased levels of self-esteem, cooperation, and school engagement—all factors which can help to combat the high school dropout risk factors listed above.

How do students respond to having three individuals from diverse backgrounds supporting their growth?

Our team approach to mentoring offers our students a multitude of perspectives, life skills and knowledge. Our students enjoy hearing and learning different perspectives, and for many, it’s an introduction and exposure they have not experienced living in their communities. Integral to developing their decision-making and problem solving skills, this outside influence helps students to judiciously think through all options, build positive social skills and optimism, and a greater sense of taking responsibility and accountability.

How long does the mentoring last? Once completed, how do the students and mentors handle the transition?

The commitment for all participants, mentor and mentees, is one school calendar year. Mentors and mentees, on the front end of the program, are encouraged to return to the program year after year.

Additionally, as a part of our mentor training and to help foster a healthy closure, mentors are provided a celebratory platform that awards collective and individual contributions, transformations and accomplishments. This way, the program ends on a high note based on achievement and growth.

Children who grow up in poor urban environments may face additional hardships. Do students mention this as being a barrier to their growth? Yes, typically at the tail end of the program is when our students really start to open up and sometimes share their hardships, fears and or concerns. They begin having more deeper and meaningful conversations at this time because they trust and respect their mentors. It is in these moments, when the power of mentoring can be most effective.

What reasons do mentors give for why they participate in the program?

Most of our volunteers mentor because of an inspiring mentoring experience they had in their lives, or, are at a point in their lives where they feel the need to contribute in a greater way to their community (particularly for the Millenial generation, which has grown up in a culture of ‘community service’), and they are looking for an opportunity to pay it forward to a young person in need. Mentors appreciate having co-mentors to share the experience with (meaning they are not alone), they appreciate having a curriculum that influences meaningful conversation, and moreover, they are attracted to the structure our program offers. Research shows volunteers are looking for well- organized and structured programs to donate their valuable time. Our structured approach is different than other community-based mentoring programs, in that mentors do not have to independently plan and schedule activities and outings in order to spend time with their students. As a mentor with LATM, mentors are able to show up to weekly sessions and field trips with minimal preparation, and LATM provides the materials, supplies, and activities that help students and mentors to have shared experiences that create the foundation of meaningful mentoring relationships.

What can be done to build greater grass-root support for your organizations efforts?

Because we span across LA County, a social powered campaign that builds not only large-scale awareness, but a community by community awareness across LA County would help LATM attract more mentors and supporters for each school served.

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