21. The new school year is under way

A very interesting gathering on Tuesday, as mentors and mentees met up for the first time since the Christmas break. Some of the mentees were enthusiastic, focused and keen to move forward. Some had acquired part-time jobs during the holidays. A few were still battling to settle back into school, a couple making mutterings about wanting to leave. This is the very reason why they are a part of the mentoring program. The challenge for the mentors is to encourage their mentees back on track to maximise their time at school, especially as there are some very small signs of an economy that might become a little more difficult in the months ahead. So, these youngsters would be well advised to work hard at school, even to stay for their final two years, acquire more employability skills and be better prepared for life after school. Relationships between boys and girls are also featuring in early discussions and I have been impressed at the sensitve ways mentors are discussing these matters. There was some good sharing during the debrief and, thereafter, via email and in chats with individual mentors, we explored a variety of strategies to consider in encouraging mentees to reach their potential. We should have an interesting few weeks ahead.
We saw the effects of negative peer pressure and, after 45 minutes, I could see how one mentor had already helped her mentee start looking at the decisions he was making and the reality of the consequences of some of his decisions.
This is a time during adolescence when one does notice the changes taking place in their thinking, planning (or lack of!), relationship issues etc. Some mentors acknowledged seeing these changes in the space of two months. One mentee has shed 9kg over the holidays, looks and feels good and is more motivated than at any time last year – an interesting mentoring relationship to observe. I would not be surprised to see this mentoring relationship continue well beyond the formal closure of the program.
During the holidays all the mentors received their mentor training accreditation letters from TAFE (Tertiary provider). I celebrated the occasion by presenting them all with special Certificates officially acknowledging them as mentors in the program now that they have been past the probationary period. We took a group photograph which I emailed to them all in the afternoon. Acknowledging and rewarding mentors is something I feel very strongly about, yet it’s the cost of small gifts that is one of the first items to be slashed from a mentoring budget when the finances are tight. Fortunately, most mentors are volunteers who are unlikely to expect anything in return for their time, so it is not a big deal.
I also met with the school IT folk to look at ways to tweak the ementoring component of the program. At the moment the supervisors can’t read any attachments. One mentor erred in placing a private email address when corresponding with the mentee during the holidays. This is not allowed and is a safety and security issue. We want the supervisor to be able to access a message like this and delete the address (in this case). Obviously the mentor would be informed immediately. How important a pilot project is, allowing us to experiment a little, make mistakes etc.
The mentors will be focusing on career options etc, during the next few months. Students in schools here will start selecting their subject choices for their final two years of school between May and September this year. It makes a great difference if one has some idea of a career and knows what subjects are needed and this will be part of the mentoring journey. Having said that, where students are not feeling good about being back at school, the mentors will focus more on empathising and having discussions about choices and the consequences of those choices, maybe even doing some role-playing around this. The Student Manual is expected to be used quite a bit during the next few months.
Flexibility when running a program is important. I have one mentor whose circumstances have changed, making it not possible for her to meet her mentee when all the other mentors are gathering. We have sat with her mentee and agreed another time. The two of them have a positive connection and were making good progress at the end of last year, so it seemed important to do our utmost to accommodate the mentor’s request for a change of days. However, she will miss the camaraderie with the other mentors each week, the debrief times and so on. I will have the added responsibility of ensuring that she is being supervised and supported, but it’s a small price to pay to see a successful relationship continue.