I mentored in downtown Tucson at the private school Imago Dei. This is a faith-based private school, and because of this I feel like I received a different experience to my peer when it came to service learning. Before I was allowed to mentor anyone I had to go through two videos about sexual assault on minors and how to spot and deal with the signs. This was obviously a very jarring sight when first coming into service learning, and it did make me feel extremely uncomfortable.
However, I understand the importance of educating people on these issues since it is a real possibility that some of the children we came in contact with will have been abused. While the instance never arose with me, I’m glad I was briefed on how to cope with it if it did. The school is a tuition free middle school where the only requirement is that students qualify for the National School Lunch Program. This means that all the students at the school were of lower socioeconomic class. The average school day is 10 hours long, with Saturday school an option for children too, and mandatory when they are not on honor roll.
This makes in easier for parents to collect their child when they are done with work, as opposed to having to take time off or making their child walk home alone. I didn’t get a chance to meet too many teachers but the ones I did seemed very competent with the 1 teacher to 10 students ratio the school maintains. This has lead to high academically performing school. Imago Dei is nothing like the middle school I went to. I went to Riverside Middle School which is an English middle school located in Mildenhall, Suffolk.
The years I attended would be equivalent to 4th through 7th grade, making me a little younger than the traditional 5th through 8th taught at middle schools across America. My school was also much larger and a comprehensive school open to the public. We were not a faith-based institution though religion was taught once a week. Funding wasn’t a huge issue at my middle school and any new expenses were covered through fundraisers. I found that my mentee, Hermione, and I had a lot in common. We are both avid readers and she is very similar to what I was like at her age.
Both her and I have a competitive steak, which came out when we played games, and we enjoy a lot of the same things. Hermione is a lot more motivated than I was at her age though. At only 12 she knows that she wants to attend the University of Pennsylvania to study forensic science and obtain her PhD and go on to start a career in studying blood splatter patterns. When I was her age I had no idea what I wanted to do. However, this led me to not really knowing what I could offer her, and the topic of conversation was one that was over rather quickly.
She seemed to have it all worked out, she never had homework, or things she needed to work on. Hermione and I talked a lot though. We spoke about her family, how she sings in a girl’s choir, and whether she wants to play sports when she goes to high school. We never had in depth conversations about serious topics, but I think that was okay because we were both comfortable talking as we did whatever assignment I’d brought to do that week. She was a genuinely funny and caring young girl who I saw so much of myself in. It made it a pleasure to go see her each week; I don’t think I could have received a more fitting mentee.
I believe I have gained much more personally than I have academically through this course. Technically speaking this class filled a general education requirement for me. Personally speaking though, I feel like I have grown so much throughout the time of this course. The weekly readings and discussions are given me new outlooks on social issues and I feel like I see more of what is going on in the world around me. Mentoring was such a rewarding experience, I felt like I was actually learning more from Hermione than she was from me.
It was very eye opening to see these brilliantly smart and motivated children and know many of the hardship they’ll have to face due to their race, gender, or socioeconomic class. While I had vague notions on most of the concepts we touched on in class, it is in much clearer focus. You never realize just how unfair the game is when you are in one of the easiest positions. I know that I am privileged, I knew that before but maybe not to what extent, but now I know that there are ways I can use my privilege to help others and ignoring it doesn’t suddenly make the playing field fair.
I don’t think my goals have changed because my goals were never based in social issues, but I do think that this course has made me change the way I move through the world. While I do not see a role in public education on the cards for me, I will make sure my younger sibling, friends, and even potential children later on, understand the social issues that govern the way the world works. I originally only signed up for Project SOAR because it is offered as Tier 2 Individual and Societies general education credit. However, once I looked more into what the class entailed I was excited.
Maybe at first I had these preconceived ideas about how I was going to ‘save’ these kids. However I soon realized that isn’t what this class is about, and I’m glad for that. My new goal came to be learning more about myself and if I can help some people along the way then that was just an added bonus. I feel comfortable in saying that I have met these goals. I feel like I better understand myself and how I am able to fit into the world around me. I’d like to think that I’ve been some help to Hermione too, but I guess you would have to ask her to know for sure.
There are few things I would change about my mentoring experience. While it was different to what I expected and even to other’s experiences in the class, I believe I was rewarded an amazing experience to work with some incredible children and I don’t think I could have had a better time. While sometimes I did feel a little overwhelmed with what to do, it was easier as time went on to come up with activities and I believe Hermione enjoyed herself too. As for the 3-unit course, I would say that some of the weekly readings were rather dense and hard to understand.
I think there might be a better way of formatting them. I loved my discussion section, I felt far more comfortable in the smaller environment speaking up than I did in the lecture hall. While personally I would rather only have section, I understand for some the lecture is better and therefore both are rather innate parts of the course. Overall, this has been one of my favorite courses I’ve taken thus far in college and is an experience I will carry with me through the rest of higher education and on into later life.