School attendance is a staggering problem among youth living in urban areas today; 20% of all students in New York City alone miss one month of class or more throughout the academic year. Last September, Mayor Bloomberg initiated a new program to help reduce this chronic absenteeism and truancy at 25 targeted high schools. Describing the effort, Bloomberg said: “1,500 students who are most at-risk for attendance problems will be matched with a supportive school mentor, who will work to keep them in school and on track throughout the year. We are also using data and community support groups in new ways.”
buildOn brought extensive experience with teens in cities like the Bronx and Detroit to the Mayor’s initiative. The original plan partnered every chronically absent student with an adult volunteer; we felt, however, that our own buildOn students would make the most effective mentors. We launched a program in January 2011 pairing youth with attendance problems in two NYC high schools with a buildOn mentor from a senior class. These mentors provide peer encouragement and guidance, and have been meeting weekly with a coordinator to assess the strengths and weaknesses they’ve encountered with this approach.
Since February, 51% of our mentees from one high school have improved their attendance.
“The NYC Success Mentor partnership is really exciting for buildOn,” says buildOn’s VP of US Programs Abby Hurst. “This is a great example of youth solving critical social problems and leading change. Through the initiative we are able to provide meaningful ongoing service opportunities in school and the mentors are working to solve chronic absenteeism, which is derailing the school’s educational objectives. This is a win win on many levels.”[pullquote]Another mentee decided she didn’t want to go to her last period class because she wasn’t ‘feeling well.’ Joann, her mentor, was able to convince her to go to class.[/pullquote]
Umair Ilyas, the Program Coordinator for this initiative, provided some insight as to how the mentors are forging relationships with the troubled students. “One student, Amaranta, called her mentee directly to find out why he wasn’t coming to school. She found out that her mentee was being picked on, and she spoke with his teachers as a follow-up.” He continues, “Another mentee decided she didn’t want to go to her last period class because she wasn’t ‘feeling well.’ Joann, her mentor, was able to convince her to go to class. Joann stated, ‘It’s only 45 minutes, and it’ll be done before you know it!'”
According to Ilyas, the mentors are discovering that attendance issues often arise due to social and personal problems through which the younger students seek guidance. “This is more than just a fight against absenteeism,” he says. “This is a fight for passion.”
Joann Nguyen, mentioned above by Ilyas, has been keeping a journal of her efforts as a mentor. As with all the volunteer work she completes with buildOn, she feels this opportunity has illustrated her ability to make a difference, and to touch lives. “As a buildOn Success Mentor, I feel like I can change the status quo in the school,” she writes. “I constantly talk with my mentees in between classes to get to know them better. They do not feel intimidated to speak to me because I am their mentor; I will not penalize them for what they feel and what they tell me.”
This is, for many of these students, the first time that a peer has taken a genuine interest in their personal lives, and Joann insists that this one-to-one connection must be built on forgiveness and openness. As Joann beautifully states, “the buildOn Success Mentors initiative gives students a second chance to fix what was wrong, gain a more positive head start, and become better people.”
Posted May 3, 2011 in News by buildOn