Thoughts on mentoring — and being mentored

Carmen and Cynthia. Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley's Sage Mentoring Program

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: Yes!

Cynthia: Why?

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.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    These programs are important to the older students because it does get them out of the “me, me, me” mindset and involve them with the larger community. You can take better care of yourself when you see what happens to families that don’t take care of anything. And at some point, the University Students are forced to realize the “difference” between them and the lower classes.

    No, anybody cannot go to college. If you are not born with the innate ability to process fast enough and far enough, you can’t even graduate from a good high school. At some point the emphasis shifts from trying to teach someone how to function better (helping with the homework) to placing people in the best position to live with the level of function they are able to perform. Mentor long enough and you finally “get it” that all people are not created equal and we have to manage everybody for some success as they are.

    In a nutshell, mentoring in mainstream East Bay will put the lie to the PC nonsense being offered up at Berkeley.

    It is interesting mentoring to immigrants – I’ve done some of that over the decades. I’ve watched some of them go from nothing to high positions, when their own families tried to sabatoge their rise (Indian female in that case). The real fun starts when you see potential in the candidate and the opportunities clash with the ethnic and gender expectations of the student and their family and culture.

    And you produce a plane ticket, they have to decide whether to stay or get on the plane to go to the opportunity.

    Similar issues in dealing with urban blacks. the minute “opportunity” involves acting white or leaving the ghetto physically or it’s norms, you have a problem.

    Some people get on the plane, some don’t. Most don’t.

  • Nextset

    I have a cousin who is a (relatively) wealthy banker, vacations to Monaco and all that. She was paired with a hispanic teen in an urban mentorship program once, many years ago. It didn’t go well. The cultural differences were insurmountable. Simply put the mating habits of the girl were not compatible with education and a responsible career. If the girl had to choose between her homies and education, careers, and a nicer life, she’d choose to have a 14 tattooed on her forehead. My cousin didn’t feel safe even going into the girl’s home. That was the end of participation in that mentorship program. She did spend some months on it, tried various things to get the girl out to see her life, local colleges, “enrichment” things, did the homework thing. It was a mistake.

    Remember how educators like to use younger children whenever they want to trick people into thinking the Academic Gap is being changed or closed? The differences are less noticible when people are younger and more noticible at puberty. So I always notice these PC feel-good things involving smiling children at 5th grade or so. I wish everyone well. But the problems in public education are not solved this easily by any means. It’s just not this easy.

    That said, the more mentorships the better. I hope everybody is up front and on board with what is intended from both directions. There are reasons the urban schools have the problems they do and unlike the SNL skit “It takes a white lady” you can’t just walk in and change what people are.

  • Nextset

    It wasn’t SNL who did that skit, it was MAD TV. Here’s a link to one of the skits: