Boisterous music streaming from a room in University Hall at Loyola Marymount University marked the end-of-the-year party for the LMU for Others Mentoring Program, as several ninth-graders from Westchester High School sang along to a karaoke machine.
The pilot year for the LMU for Others Mentoring Program ran from October 2008 to June 2009. Eighteen ninth-grade students at Westchester High (WHS) partnered with18 graduate students in the LMU School of Education who volunteered as mentors. Each student met with his or her mentor for one hour each week during the school year.
Professor Karen Komosa-Hawkins, the program director, reported an overwhelmingly positive response from all stakeholders.
Research on youth mentoring shows that support from even one adult outside of the family can benefit a child in both academic and emotional areas. Komosa-Hawkins, a professor in school counseling, was motivated to start a mentoring program at WHS in the hope of raising the graduation rate of the student population there; students at WHS come from 80 different zip codes and many will become first-generation college students.
“The goal of the program is to catch ninth-graders as they transition into high school,” Komosa-Hawkins said. “Mentors can offer support as the students learn how to navigate through high school and learn to make good decisions for life after high school.”
The mentoring program will continue this coming school year and Komosa-Hawkins expects to increase the number of participants. The students who joined in the pilot year will have the opportunity to participate as tenth-graders. The majority of these students have expressed a strong interest in continuing. On the end-of-the year program survey, one student wrote, “I like being able to talk [with my mentor] about everything – good and bad.”
As the mentors built relationships with the students, they gained a greater understanding of the challenges faced by young people. Komosa-Hawkins said, “Not only are we meeting the needs of the students at the high school, but we’re providing training and experience for our graduate students along the way.” Gloria Negrete, one of the mentors, noted that her counseling classes prepared her for the mentoring experience, but there were still surprises. “I found out that, when working with teenagers, no matter how experienced you are, you are always learning from them.”