Jamestown High School siblings Antonio and Nancheska Torres recently spent time after school mentoring Ring Elementary School third grader Manuely Martinez and Lincoln Elementary School first grader Kiara Thompson in the Eastside YMCA Teen Center. The siblings, who meet with their buddies every Tuesday, shared a snack and read a story as part of the “Hispanic Mentoring on the Move Program.” The after school program, a collaborative involving the YMCA, and Jamestown Public Schools 21st Century and Extended School Day grants, helps build supportive relationships between peers.
“We know how enriching a mentoring relationship can be both for a growing young child and a also growing teen,” said John Barber, YMCA Teen Center Director. “In addition, our growing Latino population presents special needs to our community and especially our schools. Our teens know especially well what it is like to be a Latino student. We thought they might be able to help each other navigate the special challenges school life can bring.”
The experience has benefited both the mentors and the buddies.
“We wanted to do this as we both really love kids,” said Antonio and Nancheska. “We want to help these kids take the right path. We try to be positive role models for them to follow.”
“We do fun things together,” said third grader Manuely. “We read books together and it helps because if I don’t know a word, Antonio can help me.”
The six mentors, Antonio and Nancheska, Nelly Gonzalez, Andrew Rodriguez, Alma Fontanez and Sebastian Mercado, attended after school training at JHS that emphasized the assets that both they and their mentors will need to grow into healthy adults. They are trained using materials from a curriculum from the Search Institute, which highlights the 40 critical assets that healthy kids have in abundance when growing up. By focusing on these assets, the mentors can make better use of their time with their buddy. The mentors and buddies participate in a variety of activities including playing games like Monopoly and decorating cookies around the holidays. The mentors are friends but they also help with reading skills and learning English. Having a teen mentor, who knows what it’s like to be a Hispanic student and some of the unique academic and social challenges, is an important connection.
The mentors were chosen from the YMCA Teen Program. The students applied to be a part of the program and then attended training. Students agreed to be part of the program for a year to help nurture the relationship.
Students receive a 1/2 credit from JHS for every 35 hours that they spend working with the mentoring program. In addition, the mentors are put on the fast track to the YMCA student working scholarship, which makes them eligible to receive a free Y membership for one year.
“After school is an extraordinarily important part of the day,” said Mr. Barber. “It is the time when learning can come alive for students. After school programs at the Eastside YMCA and other excellent sites throughout the school district provide a valuable link between the school day and home life. Eastside Y and the kids who go there every day make this the perfect place for us to have teens build relationships with young students. I love helping the students in the ‘Mentoring on the Move Program’ because of their sincere desire to help someone else. These teens know that they can make a positive impact and they are taking time each week to do it. Many of them travel by foot and walk a long way to make sure they meet with their buddy. It seems that often their real motivation to be a part of this program is the opportunity to make a difference. I think that is pretty wonderful.”