By MARA FIKSDAL
Two young women who graduated from Hazen High School this week credit the help of their mentors for their recent achievement. Both agreed that their lives would probably be very different without the influence of a mentor.
Arlene Willcocks has mentored Tay (Tejuatenia) Adams-Hatfield for seven years since her fifth-grade year at Sierra Heights Elementary. Back then, Tay was having a hard time adjusting to her new school and was referred to the Communities In Schools of Renton Mentor Program at the suggestion of a counselor. Over the years, meeting for an hour each week, Arlene had become Tay’s “best-best” friend who lets her vent and helps her solve problems.
About the experience of having a mentor Tay said, “To have an adult in your life that’s not your parent or your teacher changes your outlook on life. Arlene gives me the time and space just to talk without any judgment. That means more than anything.”
Arlene responded that she had no idea that she had that kind of effect on Tay, and that she was reflecting that they had gone from doing arts and crafts to talking about their lives, and had watched Tay grow up from a fifth-grader with issues to a beautiful young woman. She believes that every child needs that one stable person in his or her life to make a difference, someone who cares.
School board member Lynn Desmarais has mentored Celene Gutierrez for six years starting in sixth grade at McKnight Middle School.
Celene entered the Mentor Program at the suggestion of a teacher, when Communities In Schools was beginning to focus on the middle school years as the most effective time to begin dropout prevention efforts. Celene had older siblings who had dropped out of school and she needed an additional supportive person in her life.
Celene says Lynn is her best friend, that she can tell her anything, and that she will let her talk through things until she reaches an understanding. Celene also described how her mentor “taught her things that others wouldn’t,” in effect, talking through the process of making good choices and “not going down that [the wrong] path.” Lynn became “that person I needed to impress, I just had to do well because she would ask [how school was going].” Lynn’s comment was that “it’s important to be there, part of what a mentor hopes to pass along is the expectation and value of commitment.”
What is remarkable about these two mentor/mentee matches is the longevity, staying together for so long. Both girls talked about the fact that they discussed graduation as a goal many times with their mentors.
“One of the highlights of being a school board director is that we give the seniors their diplomas at graduation, we are the first to shake their hands … I told Celene that if she would commit to graduating from high school, I would make sure I was there to hand her the diploma, and here we are,” Lynn said.
Arlene also intended to attend graduation along with Tay’s family.
Celene and Tay will both be going to college; Tay has been accepted to several schools and is leaning toward attending University of Washington, Tacoma, and living at home to save money, but has not settled on a major yet. Celene will attend Bellevue College, with the goal of becoming a para-educator with emphasis in Special Education. Both girls expressed interest in becoming mentors themselves in the future.
The Communities In Schools of Renton (CISR) Mentor Program is an important part of what CISR provides to students. The mission statement of Communities in Schools of Renton is to “surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.” While the program only asks the volunteer mentor to commit to the student for one school year, many mentors continue meeting with their mentees year after year.
CISR typically has about 120 mentors placed in schools in the Renton School District. The mentor/mentee matches meet for an hour once a week at school, during the school year.
If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Mara at 425-430-6659 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mara Fiksdal is the Mentor Program manager for Communities In Schools of Renton.