Cultivating Mentorship Opportunities in Hayward Promise Neighborhoods

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education’s blog, Homeroom

cultivating mentorship opportunities in hayward promise neighborhoods

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.

Mentoring in the Time of COVID

This was cross-posted from the U.S Department of Education blog, Homeroom

blog: mentoring in the time of COVID

By Catherine López, M.A., M.Ed., LDT, CALT,  Certified Academic Language Therapist and Bilingual Content Interventionist working for the Austin Independent School District

Quality mentoring programs are more necessary than ever. Attracting and retaining new teachers has gone from being a serious problem to an acute crisis. Districts that seek to curb attrition rates in their ranks need structured programs that can help fledgling teachers during the first two to three years of their career.

I did not have a mentor when I was a novice teacher and struggled mightily, so during my seventh year as a teacher when asked to mentor a first-year teacher I agreed, not wanting anyone to unnecessarily suffer like I did. I have been mentoring novice teachers ever since. Mentoring during pre-pandemic years included meeting with novice teachers to instruct them on concepts crucial to their success in the classroom, such as the basics of classroom management and the components of a strong academic lesson. I helped with identifying students that may have needed evaluation for special services such as Special Education or Gifted and Talented enrichment and navigating the often-labyrinthine bureaucracy related to those responsibilities.

COVID-19 erased 20 years of mentoring experience in the blink of an eye. The pandemic made us all novices again. I no longer had as many answers as I once did. I could be a sounding board for ideas and a sympathetic ear. But could I help them create a dynamic lesson on Canvas? Could I help them get the most out of Seesaw? No. Did anybody know how to slay the monster that was “simultaneous teaching” (teaching in-person and virtual students at the same time)? I felt like I couldn’t help at all. I was scrambling to figure out the basics alongside the novice teachers and everyone else. I know now that mentoring conversations will cover the same topics as they did before, however, now I must also include strategizing with mentees on how to cope with being overwhelmed and their mental health, while taking my own advice. This comes in the way of helping mentees set small, attainable goals, prioritizing tasks, as well as coaching them and modeling how to set boundaries at work. I also recognize that pandemic mentoring has been more mutually beneficial than before.

It is no secret that first or second career teachers, traditional or alternatively certified teachers, or foreign educated teachers are all expected to perform on target immediately. Successful mentoring programs pair new teachers with a veteran teacher in a matching field/grade that can provide frequent, long-term coaching. A vital part of successful mentoring is protected dedicated time and class coverage, so the mentor teacher may observe the mentee teaching to engage in a recursive process of inquiry and reflection. It’s also important that mentors are paid for their indispensable service and in amounts that recognize their expertise in teaching and coaching. These actions can increase not only instructional quality in mentees’ classrooms, but the likelihood that the mentee will return the following year or make teaching a life-long career. Districts should value their teaching staff and the charge of educating students enough to assume the responsibility for formally training mentors. The crucible of COVID-19 will forever change the American educational system. Creating or bolstering mentoring programs should be the keystone to reform efforts. After all, if the teachers are okay, then the kids will be okay.