A Four-Year Mentoring Journey Leads to Four Future Ready Graduates

Sarina Mathai
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August 1, 2022

Not many young people like being asked what they are going to do after high school, a question that’s often very daunting and comes with heavy expectations. But when you ask Sa’Myia B., Mariah J., Yasmin B., and Sirinity B. what they’re planning to do, they excitedly tell you what college they’re attending, what they’re going to major in, and what they plan to do after college without hesitation. There’s no apprehension of that question with these young women from Dallas, Texas!

The confidence these Innovation Design Entrepreneurship Academy (IDEA HS), Academy of Finance students exude doesn’t surprise their local advisory board one bit. After all, it was the advisory board that mentored these women as freshman, and all throughout high school, to help chart their pathways for future success.

Tanyania Bobb, Assistant Principal, started the mentoring program at her school when she met Sirinity and Sa’Myia in middle school at a recruitment fair and saw two students who struggled to express themselves fully and just needed an extra push to have their voices heard. She reached out to Dr. Marguritte Johnson, founder of Stand 4 Sisterhood, to join the advisory board — having seen her previous work in the community as a mentor to young women on social media. Ms. Bobb understood that what many young people needed was knowing someone was there for them, rooting for them, and available for support, and sometimes that person had to be someone other than their teacher.

“I could tell that the students would get tired of me telling them, ‘You got this!’,” she said. “So, when they needed to hear that from someone else, that’s when they had Marguerite or their mentor to turn to.”

The mentoring program originated in 2018 and Ms. Bobb ensured that every first-year student was paired with an advisory board member, who would serve as their mentor for all four years – it was important that the students knew that throughout their high school journey, there would be that consistency with touchpoints and guidance.

But the journey was not just meaningful for the students – the mentors felt a sense of purpose and satisfaction from being a part of the relationship, too. The impact was felt both ways. “I knew I was going to see these girls through from 9th grade through 12th grade, no matter what,” said Dr. Johnson. “I wanted to witness them all walk across that stage. I’m glad to have just witnessed their growth.”

Little did Ms. Bobb know that when she started this program, she would have to prepare both her mentors and students for the profoundly devastating and unpredictable events surrounding COVID-19 – with social-emotional learning (SEL) tools and resources, needed more than ever.

“The mentor program really made me feel like I had someone else other than my mother to help me and talk to,” said Sirinity. “I lost motivation for school, but my mentor gave me the motivation to keep going.”

“We always checked in during COVID, because we knew how hard it was on these students,” added Dr. Johnson. “But we also knew it was important to make it fun and arranged for virtual dance lessons to get the students moving. We also had pizza parties and game nights. It’s important to enjoy yourself and incorporate life lessons and skills at the same time.”

In the case of Yasmin, she saw firsthand how important the mentor program was to her when she had to transfer to a new school her sophomore year. She decided it was important to come back to her NAF academy, because she saw a drop in her performance at her new school and knew she would have the support of her mentor to help her through. “I came back because I wanted that support again,” she said. “If I stayed [at the other school], I don’t think I would be graduating on time like I am now.”

“All of these young women have sat on the advisory board here since they were freshmen,” added Ms. Bobb. “They’re used to running meetings and have also become comfortable and experienced at hosting entrepreneur summits. Sa’Myia and Sirinity have given back, by becoming mentors to elementary and middle school students. They have all stood out in the crowd – when our academy achieved Katherine Blasik Distinguished quality level, they were a big part of that process.”

These last few simple words sum it all up: “We all have something we can share with the next person – it’s all about sharing your own experiences and being a supporter,” said Dr. Johnson.

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Sarina Mathai is an Assistant Director of Corporate Engagement & Relations at NAF. Her experience as a Jumpstart Corps Member during her senior year at Tufts University lit a spark in her to support under-invested in communities, address educational equity, and help young people see their own potential and have agency in their own learning and lives. Since then, she’s been proud to help NAF’s mission to equip students with the skills and aspirations to become future leaders and changemakers.