Gwinnett County Public Schools’ Community-Based Mentoring Program in Gwinnett County, Georgia plays an important role in our school district’s efforts to support students. In 2008, our CEO/Superintendent created the program to address a need in our community—a need to support underserved African American young males.
The success of the program and its students led to expansion of the program, which now serves African American female students and Hispanic students as well. The mission of our program is to provide mentoring to our students to enhance their social and academic development, resulting in their growth as successful and responsible young adults.
Gwinnett’s Community-Based Mentoring Program focuses on four key goals:
- Recruit, train, support, and retain men in the community to serve as volunteer mentors and positive role models.
- Support, encourage, and expose students to various enrichment activities and field trips in the areas of character and leadership, STEAM, college and career readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship.
- Provide support and resources to parents that will enhance their parental skills to support their student’s personal, social, and academic development
- Seek additional resources to help sustain the program in the future.
As a first generation immigrant, myself, I am proud to lead the part of this program which supports our Hispanic community. I am passionate about the success of these students as I have walked in their shoes. In fact, I feel it is my personal responsibility to pay it forward. What’s more I am proud to be a part of a school system that has taken the initiative to embed a mentoring program within its services to our students and their families, recognizing that mentoring and other support will have a positive impact on students, their achievement, and ultimately, our community.
Our Hispanic mentoring program launched in January 2019 in four middle schools that serve higher populations of Hispanic students—Berkmar, Lilburn, Radloff, and Sweetwater. Students in the initial cohort of mentees were invited to the program based on data that indicated additional support could have a positive effect on the student and their academic success. Schools also were able to recommend students who they felt would benefit from the mentee-mentor relationship.
As with the launch of any new program or initiative, there have been some challenges. With that in mind, I have focused much of our initial work on communication, building trust, and forging relationships.
One of the biggest challenges we faced was the need to inform and educate the families of students in these communities about mentoring—what it is and how it could support their students. This was especially difficult as there is no official translation for the term “mentoring” in Spanish. With that in mind, our district held an informational summit in October of 2018, welcoming the community and inviting them to learn about this initiative and to provide feedback. Workshops, lunch, t-shirts, and an inspirational speaker were a part of this event that focused on the vision of the program.
Another challenge was our need to bridge cultural divides. While the mentees in this program are Hispanic, we wanted and needed mentors from all backgrounds to engage. Many of our mentors are Hispanic, however, one did not have to be Hispanic or bilingual to be a community-based mentor in our Hispanic program. Therefore, our message and invitation to become a mentor was inclusive to ensure that members throughout our community knew they were welcome and needed.
A consistent message of our Community-Based Mentoring Program is the power that one person can have in another person’s life— in this case the life of a young person. That power is found in the ability to connect with a mentee and to help him or her to see beyond their current situation in order to reach his or her potential. The work we do to build positive relationships and to help mentees and their families to access resources and information makes a difference. Mentoring makes a difference!
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