62. More WOW! Moments as third program closes

Today will long remain as one of the most memorable days I have had being involved in a youth mentoring program. Sam (not her real name) came back! Sam had basically dropped out of school about seven weeks ago and had moved in with her boyfriend, who was a few years older than her, partly because she was having difficult family issues. Her mentor and I were trying to work out strategies to reach her, but were experiencing problems in this regard. Last week I was told Sam had returned to school to write her exams. Today Sam appeared for the Celebration event and looked positively radiant! Each of the mentors and students shared something about the GR8 MATES program they had enjoyed. Sam told us that she had thought she would not be allowed back to school. However, she had approached the acting Principal and had a discussion with him. Sam had decided that she not only wanted to return to school to write her Public Exams next week, but she wanted to stay on and complete her schooling! Her mentor shed a few tears and I think everyone in the room was moved, as Sam has had a tough time. I spoke to Sam after the function and let her know how proud of her I was, told her that she had made some courageous decisions in recent weeks and also assured her that never again would she have to feel alone. One of her issues was that she didn’t feel she had anyone to talk to, but now she realises how important her mentor is in...

60. Winding down two programs and learning lessons

There are an interesting couple of weeks ahead, as two pilot programs come to an end. Most of the students have now completed their online Student Performer and it is clear that in the majority of mentoring relationships the students have made some significant progress. Almost all of them have a much greater understanding of career pathways and the options open to them, which is one of the major features of the GR8 MATES program. As this has happened, so has their attitude to school and academic studies improved and, in the majority of cases, there also appears to be a growth in self-image, self-confidence and a greater willingness to reveal the ‘real me’. I am sure there is a whole lot more and will make an effort to comment more fully on a future blog. A couple of months ago I decided to write one combined email to the mentors of our three programs each week. Previously I had been writing a separate one to each group. The idea behind the combined one, in addition to the obvious saving of administrative time, was to be an encouragement and reassurance to the mentors, perhaps an opportunity to learn from the efforts of other programs etc. Well, in chatting to a mentor the other day, I came to realise that this was not a good idea, as mentors are busy people and don’t read the emails from beginning to end, even when I highlight key points. So, it’s clear that a short, sharp email to each group separately is a more effective strategy to ensure effective ongoing training and support....

58. Potential dangers of a government funded program

I have written before that GR8 MATES is linked to a federal funded not-for-profit organisation. In one month our two other pilot programs will be completed. I am also experiencing the perennial difficulty of recruiting volunteers for another program, mainly because the mentoring program is only part of my job and also because I haven’t really had enough time to recruit these volunteers. The school at which we are completing a pilot wants us to run another program next year. So, the idea is to train the mentors before the end of the year, match them and then they will be ready to begin the journey in February 2009. Thus far three of the current crop of mentors have indicated that they would like to continue next year and I have about six or eight others interested, though none of these have completed Application Forms yet. I will do some phoning on Monday and Tuesday next week, but if I don’t have 10 – 15 mentors for the program, I won’t go ahead at the moment. What this could mean, though, is that we will not be able to launch another program until we know whether or not we will be receiving more funding beyond 2009. Our Federal Government has changed, the economy is being hit by the world global recession – is one allowed to use that word? – so the government might decide our programs should be cut. It would be shooting itself in the foot, as we are working at skilling Australia, which is one of their election platforms. However, with all that they know about...

57. Nearing the end – a new beginning!

Well, two programs are almost completed. It’s school holidays now. Once term resumes, the two other pilot programs will have three weeks to run. I am still feeling that we could have had another three months with these pilots for them to be more effective, so it will be interesting to see what the results of the end of program online Mentor Profiler and Student Performers are. I have just completed an analysis of the first pilot’s Mentor Profilers and Student Profilers. Both show significant growth in the students’ development, while the mentors, as a group, have also shown more signs of positive development than I was expecting. I am awaiting some more feedback to my analysis from the founders of the program. Once I have this, perhaps I will place a summary as a separate blog page. It is looking like we have lost one student from one of the pilots. She has not been at school for many weeks and thus could be regarded as a student who has disengaged. Not even being a part of the mentoring program persuaded her to stay at school. Sadly, negative peer pressure, self-esteem issues and other personal issues have won the day, let’s hope only temporarily, as she has so much more potential than even she seems to realize. She had such a fantastic mentor who was prepared to walk the extra mile for her, but to no avail. Had we started the program in February instead of May perhaps she might still be at school and participating positively in the program – we will never know. However, there have...

55. Positive signs and more planning

This has been a productive week. One group of mentees completed their Student Online Performer and this has immediately given mentors ideas as to the areas they can explore with their mentees. Many of the students are revealing a great deal of potential, yet their self-belief and self-image will need attention. This is nothing new for a teenager. The fact that they are a little low on self-esteem is one of the reasons they are in the program. What I enjoyed, though, was the positive vibe in the room while the students were completing these Student Performers in the company of their mentors. A couple of students and their mentors have also embarked on the use of the email facility, which is also fantastic to see. One student has shared all sorts of ‘stuff’ already and has given the mentor a chance to start encouraging her, building her self-confidence and talking about different things they can do. Another student, only three weeks into the relationship, sent an email to his mentor informing the latter that he was sick and would not be at school for the mentoring session – very positive signs early in this new program. I would love to see more mentors and their students using the email facility like this. In another program one of the students was chatting to me about some of the things she has been doing with her mentor, mostly exploring career options, work experiences etc. The student commented that GR8 MATES had got her thinking about stuff she would never have thought about. Instead of leaving school at the end of...

48. First Program early evaluation results

The first pilot project of the GR8 MATES program comes to an end next week. This past week has been a time for reflection, completing Mentor Exit Surveys, Mentee Exit Surveys and the online Mentor Profiler and Student Performer. Although it’s too early to make any conclusive statements, it is not too early to say that this first program has been a resounding success. Students who have completed the Student Performer online have shown growth in many areas. Early signs are showing that those students who have grown in self-confidence are beginning to make strides to reach their potential. As there has been more of a leaning towards school retention and the development of career pathways in this program, it is good to see how much more confident most students appear to be in these areas. I need to do a lot more work on the evaluations etc., but there is enough evidence to suggest that a school-based youth mentoring program like GR8 MATES can be life-changing for young people who have plenty of self-doubt and, perhaps, are beginning to disengage from school. I am looking forward to seeing how the mentors have fared in the Mentor Profiler and hope that most of them will complete this during the forthcoming weekend. The two other programs are becoming more settled. In one of the schools another mentee has left the school, so we are awaiting the paperwork from another student. Mentors involved in these processes are showing great patience and restraint, as it would be all too easy for them to walk away from the program. I keep all mentors...