5. Preparing the mentees

The school was responsible for identifying the students whom they felt would benefit from participation in the program. A number of students had already participated in a program earlier in the year which was aimed at the development of study and life skills, so it seemed only natural that they should be considered for the program, as the encouragement from the volunteer mentor might be significant in the choices these young people were making. My viewpoint was that this program was not a babysitting service, nor was it a program for the more difficult students, some of whom might already be receiving professional help of some sort. The reminder is always there that mentors are volunteers from the community who are interested in moving alongside a young person and encouraging them to reach their potential. They are not there to fix problems, not to rescue students and save students.

A few students appeared to be exhibiting signs of disengaging from school and might even have been involved in some form of misbehaviour. In such cases their parents welcomed participation in the program with a mixture of relief and enthusiasm! 🙂

What was important was that all parents had to be informed about the program and permission had to be given from them for the students to attend the orientation program. I drafted a letter outlining the purpose of the program, the benefits of an effective, internationally credible program and also subtly put the message across that their child’s participation in the program was in no way a reflection of their parenting skills. The Principal then adapted the letter to the school’s approach and sent them off. In addition, participation in the program is voluntary for the students, though I did stress to them the importance of sticking to the mentoring journey for the full six week probationary period once they had committed to participate.

I spoke to a group of about 14 students and shared details of the program, what it is all about, the benefits for the student participants, both long-term and short-term, also sharing some aspects of international research about youth mentoring. I had put together an audio-visual summary of my presentation, something the students tend to appreciate. They then completed a Student Pre-Program Survey which gave me a few insights into their thinking.

A couple of students opted out of the program at this point and I think we learnt a clear lesson from this exercise ie, better to have 20 – 25 students applying for the program, knowing that some would prefer not to participate in the end, than the same number of students as potential mentors. We could train more students than we had mentors, as this could make it easier to get matches on similar interests etc. Thus, I would suggest one keeps the options open throughout this process. We also had more boys than girls participating, possibly because adolescent girls of this age can cover up their feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem better than boys, though this is is a gross generalisation.

A week later I ran a two hour mentee training program aimed at introducing the students to some mentoring concepts, but, most importantly, preparing the way for the mentor/mentee matching session. I ran a number of fun, non-threatening activities, most of which went down well, though, as one student justifiably pointed out in the evaluations, perhaps they were carrying too similar a message and thus were repetitive from that perspective. I ran a role play and was encouraged when students volunteered to take on the roles of mentor and mentee respectively and did wonderfully well. The key was for students to feel non-threatened. At the conclusion of these activities they completed the Mentee Interest Survey, almost identical in content to the Mentor Interest Survey. These surveys could be a key factor in the matching process.

During this time of preparing the students for the mentoring journey, I was conducting 1:1 Post-Training Interviews with all the mentor participants over a two week period. I volunteered to meet at their homes, or offices or at our office. The option was there so they could see that I valued their participation and was prepared to meet them at a venue which suited ‘them’. I had contacted two of their three Referees prior to these interviews. The interview, which took 20 – 30 minutes maximum, focused on how much the participant had learnt from the training, their strengths and areas they felt they still needed to work at, ensured they understood the developmental role of the mentor in the mentoring relationship and allowed time for me to respond to any questions participants might have had about the program. All responses were recorded on paper, again an important part of the evaluation process. All participants also had to complete a non-threatening, yet helpful on-line Mentor Profiler, about which I will write in another Blog.

So, the mentors’ screening was thorough. Once I was satisfied that the mentor had met all the program’s criteria, clearly spelt out in the Mentor Assessment Summary, I went through each application with my CEO, who also signed the document accepting the mentor into the program. This is an important part of any program and takes the pressure off the Coordinator and other program staff in the event of something unforeseen taking place at any point during the mentoring journey. I then sent mentors a letter inviting them to participate in the program.

During this process I lost one mentor. She had weighed up the commitment, having completed the training and decided at the last minute to withdraw from the program, partly because she had just started in a new job as well. While I was naturally disappointed, I was also pleased that she had the courage to make this decision, as I had consistently advised mentors that it was okay to withdraw if they were concerned about the commitment required.

One final point about the process thus far. I have rewritten the student surveys and have combined their two surveys and now have one Pre-Program Student Survey.

We were ready to get on with the matching process ….