By Edgar Chavez, Executive Director, Hayward Promise Neighborhoods
Mentorship is an opportunity to help others feel seen and explore all possibilities for their future. Reflecting on my work with young people for over a decade, I didn’t always see the power of these principles. As leaders, we tend to lead with outcomes rather than relationships. To see ourselves and others in our wholeness means also understanding past and present forces that shape our everyday experiences so that we may be open to new possibilities, especially during these anxious times.
Hayward Promise Neighborhoods (HPN) has leveraged its unique educational assets to nurture community-sustaining mentorship opportunities with students and families. For nearly a decade and two U.S. Department of Education grants, our 11-partner collaborative led by Cal State East Bay (CSUEB) has worked to bring our institutions closer to our families and communities. The pandemic has highlighted persistent inequities across our schools and neighborhoods, primarily working-class communities of color, which experienced COVID-19 transmission rates that ranked among the top in the Bay Area. Despite the move to distance learning, our partners continued to provide virtual spaces for mentorship and social-emotional learning while building the capacity of our schools and partners through monthly convenings. In 2021, our HPN partners documented over 9,373 points of contact with students through dozens of school and community-based activities from birth to college.
HPN partners like Chabot College and CSUEB place college students—most of the Hayward graduates—as interns in HPN schools to create mentorship experiences through student identity-based courses and activities. College mentors serve as aids in African American Literature and English learner courses for Latinx and Afghan students, and lead enrichment clubs to help students develop a college-going identity, such as Chavez Chicxs (female and non-binary Latinx students), Pacific Islanders Unite, and STEAM Team. Students who are the first in their families to go to college have a safe space to explore their cultural identity and the possibilities of pursuing postsecondary education. At the same time, college mentors are navigating their first-generation identity and sense of belonging on college campuses by giving back to their school communities. Robin Galas, the Director of TRIO, a federally funded program to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and HPN programs at Chabot College, says that in these spaces, mentors and students are told, “You get to redefine who is a college student. Your very presence defines what it means to be a college student.” HPN continues the mentorship pipeline for Hayward graduates at CSUEB with a Student Success Coach from the community, where we have seen a 32% increase in enrollment, including Chabot transfers, and more students earning above a 2.5 GPA from 61% to 81% since 2018.
By adopting a dual-capacity approach to mentorship, we create mutually reinforcing mentorship experiences integrated into learning contexts and sustained by community connections. As students navigate the educational pipeline, they take on mentorship roles to their younger peers and, together, explore new possibilities for their futures as college-goers and educators. With COVID-19 continuing to disrupt student learning and wellbeing, we have an opportunity to focus on the needs of both educators and students by providing them with the tools and frameworks that meet them where they are right now.
I grew up in unincorporated Hayward as an English Learner. Local teachers, mentors, and college programs inspired me to be the first in my generation to earn a bachelor’s and graduate degree. Many of us return or stay in our communities when we do not see more of us in postsecondary and professional spaces. As a director during these times, I see my role in sustaining learning and leadership environments where our identities are a source of strength and where we can imagine new possibilities for each other and future generations.