Cynthia Clark met Carmen Avila-Hernandez, a fifth-grader at Sankofa Academy in North Oakland, last fall through a mentoring program at UC Berkeley. Cynthia writes about her experience — and then asks Carmen what it’s been like for her.
The Sage Mentorship Project has been a life-changing experience that has given me the opportunity to have a positive impact on a child’s life, both academically and socially. Carmen and I have established a unique relationship — one where she knows that I am there as a mentor to support and assist her in reaching her goals, but at the same time we have found a friendship where we are able to learn from each other.
The conducive environment at these schools is one reason for the success of the Sage Project. At Sankofa Academy in North Oakland, the teachers and principal explore every avenue to give these students the tools and skills necessary to be successful scholars. This environment allows mentors to truly become members of the Sankofa community and makes the experience for the children and the mentors that much more rewarding.
The rewards of becoming a mentor are immediate and obvious, but the real beauty of this program is its potential. This program instills in children the importance of being a good role model and giving back to the community. The fact that Carmen wants to go to college to be a mentor attests to the influence this program is having and will continue to have on the Oakland community. — Cynthia
Q & A between Cynthia and Carmen (a conversation Cynthia recorded):
Cynthia: What do you think that it means to be a mentor?
Carmen: I think it is to help children who need support for anything they need. To help them with homework and words they donʼt know how to spell. They are someone that helps you reach your goals.
Cynthia: What are your goals?
Carmen: To go to middle school, get good grades, to do my best in school – in math and science.
Cynthia: Okay, so how have I helped you toward reaching your goal? What have I taught you?
Carmen: You always help me with my homework and I have done well on tests. You help me with my spelling and grammar and reading and I have improved. I got a couple 100% on my tests and you help me be a better student.
Cynthia: What else do you like about having a mentor?
Carmen: So much stuff! Someone to talk to, play with, get support from.
Cynthia: What does having a mentor means to you?
Carmen: It means having someone you can trust, someone who gives you support.
Cynthia: You went to a school where you didnʼt have a mentor, right? Can you compare what it was like to go from a school where you didnʼt have a mentor to now having one?
Carmen: At my other school I was nervous and sad because when I didnʼt understand how to do my math or language arts and the after school staff would tell me to try to work it out and try my best but mentors always help me to get good grades.
Cynthia: How has having a mentor changed the way you act as a role model?
Carmen: I want to help the younger kids with conflicts and be nice to them like you guys do for us.
Cynthia: How does it make you feel to know that I come here to spend time with you and help you with whatever you need help with?
Carmen: It feels nice because you help me with my homework and always tell me to do my best. When you leave you always tell me to have a nice day and that you canʼt wait to see my next week. I got sad that one time when you were sick and had to leave early.
Cynthia: Do you think that all schools should have a mentoring program like this?
Carmen: So they can help other children.
Cynthia: How has having a mentor changed the way you think about college?
Carmen: It makes me want to go to college so I can be a mentor too.