What does it mean to be a mentor? Seriously, let’s ponder this word.
What does “mentor” mean? Who do we consider mentors? What are the traits of a mentor? How do you become a mentor? Think of a person in your life who you consider to be your mentor, why are they your mentor?
This past summer, that was my job; to be a mentor to 27 Port Richmond High School students, through the Port Richmond Partnership Leadership Academy. For the sake of saving our breaths, we call it PRPLA, though.
PRPLA is a three-year college readiness program. It is a collaboration between Port Richmond High School and Wagner College (specifically the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement), and is funded through the New World Foundation’s COIN Program, the Dugan family, and other donors. Its core is during the summer, with a 5 week, highly intensive program where the students are taking two classes, completing an internship, participating in civic studies, and balancing all aspects of their lives— like college students. For the first two weeks, the students are living on campus in one of the residence halls, this past summer being in Harborview. For the other three weeks, they commute, in order to gain insight into both experiences. At the end of the program, four students, who have applied and been admitted to Wagner, from each cohort, will be selected to receive a full scholarship to Wagner College.
This past summer, we had two cohorts, rising juniors and rising seniors. The juniors took high school level classes that will count for credit, a math and English class. Also, the juniors took an educational weekend trip to Washington, D.C., where they visited the Newseum, and the National Mall. The seniors took two college level courses, a history class with Dr. Weintrob, and a philosophy course with Dr. Donovan, which can be transferred to whichever college they end up going to. A week of this summer was dedicated to taking the seniors on a college tour trip, where we visited Vassar College, Princeton University, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, Boston College, Brown University, and the College of Rhode Island.
Now, let’s jump back to the questions posed in the beginning, because that is what I struggled with. I didn’t know if I had to be more of an authority figure (like a parent), a friend, or an older sibling. Would the students like me? Would I connect with them? It was too late to give up the job, and I am ALWAYS up for a challenge, so I stuck it out and we met the students a week before the program officially started. What a beautiful, easy transition we had in our relationships, in that one day that the mentors and I got to meet them. Slowly, and then all at once, being a mentor became second nature.
Being a mentor is assessing the situation, and knowing when you need to be the authority figure, the friend, the older sibling, and often, the confidant. It is making sure the students get to class, and helping them when they struggle. It is believing in them when they don’t believe in themselves, and giving pep talks about how they are so important, and so deserving of everything good. It is fighting for them to have all the best. It is jamming out to music in the common room or coffeehouse, and singing our hearts out on van rides. Being a mentor was the most rewarding, honorable title I could've had and I am so privileged to have worked with my brilliant, incredible, intelligent, funny, kind, and loving students.
This summer brought with it so many new experiences, and I am extremely grateful for that. PRPLA has made me work longer days and more hours that I have before, and enjoy that time. I have learned how to take on different roles in a group or team setting, and to meet people where they’re at. I also learned the significance of being in touch with my feelings and emotions, and how it makes me more sincere in my interactions with people. I have learned how to be a better person, to value my mentors even more, and most importantly, has instilled in me a stronger faith in our youth.