In February, we sent a team of Summer Search staff to the 2017 National Mentoring Summit. Two members of our team, Boston mentor Claire Marian and Bay Area mentor Alysa Delgado shared what they learned in this co-authored guest blog post.
This year, we (Claire Marian and Alysa Delgado) had the opportunity to represent Summer Search alongside our colleagues Salem Valentino, Stacey Thompson, Alex Bartz, Stacy Barr, and Eliza Arai Carrington at the National Mentoring Summit in Washington, DC.
From left to right: Alysa Delgado, Claire Marian, Alex Bartz, Stacy Barr, Salem Valentino, and Stacey Thompson.
This was a gathering of more than 1,000 individuals from 48 states, all dedicated to the field of mentoring. At the summit, organized by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, we got to see what the broader field of mentoring looks like, what other organizations are doing, and where Summer Search fits into the field. We were also in good company with our partners from AT&T, State Street, and LinkedIn in attendance!
Here are our key takeaways:
Mentoring Continues to Be Recognized as a Key to Youth Success
In 2014, President Barack Obama announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to support young men of color, in large part by connecting them to mentoring. This initiative’s high-profile supporters, which not only included the White House, but also the NBA and WNBA, has continued to bring visibility and legitimacy to the field of mentoring and its positive impact on young people.
A recent report — commissioned by MENTOR with support from AT&T, and written by Civic Enterprises in partnership with Hart Research — confirms the effect mentoring can have, saying “when mentoring is integrated into research-based reforms and interventions it can strengthen efforts to reduce poverty, truancy, drug abuse and violence, while promoting healthy decision-making, positive behaviors and activities, and academic achievement.”
Thus, there have been significant efforts made by the field to strengthen the evidence base behind mentoring and further refine this intervention strategy to serve more young people, more effectively.
It’s Critical to “Purify the Water” and “Clean the Air”
Critical Mentoring was a theme throughout the conference. This term reflects the idea that mentors must integrate and interrogate the context of our youth’s lives so that our conversations with them can be more culturally relevant, creating a space for honesty, insight, and critical consciousness of the world we live in.
While Summer Search is not the only organization talking about critical mentoring, we are stepping up to be leaders in the field by committing to formally integrating this framework into our mentoring model.
A few of our partners in critical mentoring — Dr. Torie Weiston-Serdan of the Youth Mentoring Action Network and Steve Vassor of Amped Strategies (who we actually met at the 2016 Mentoring Summit) — led a session based on Dr. Weiston-Serdan’s book by the same name, which was also included in every conference attendee’s gift bag.
Their presentation focused on three goals for educators and mentors that are rooted in critical mentoring:
1. Emphasize student voice and youth-centricity.
2. Empower students to transform the system, as opposed to participating in the system without questioning it.
3. In our mentoring, we must acknowledge the system and its limitations.
Additionally, Summer Search co-facilitated a three-hour workshop on critical mentoring with Weiston-Serdan and Vassor. This work builds off of our commitment through the Clinton Global Initiative to ensure that Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) becomes foundational to the field of mentoring and aims to mobilize the field in addressing gaps in research and programming related to how to best mentor young people of color.
Other presentations throughout the conference — including one entitled Mentoring and #BlackLivesMatter by Durham, North Carolina nonprofit Student U — emphasized and solidified the idea that mentoring cannot continue to prepare students to survive in a toxic system.
As Dr. Weiston-Serdan phrases it, mentoring organizations need to step up to “purify the water and clean the air,” by undertaking systemic advocacy with an EDI lens that acknowledges we will never reduce racial inequities with race-neutral approaches.
Summer Search Can #BeReal
In addition to co-facilitating a critical mentoring workshop with Dr. Torie Weiston-Serdan and Steve Vassor (as mentioned earlier), Summer Search’s own Stacey Thompson, Salem Valentino, and Alysa Delgado led a separate session on how to best incorporate equity into mentoring, called #BeReal: Conversations with Context.
From left to right: Stacey Thompson, Salem Valentino, and Alysa Delgado.
Critical mentoring is hard work (as most worthwhile things are). Part of that work is equipping our staff of all backgrounds to dialogue effectively with students about race and other aspects of their identity.
In the spirit of being real, the team authentically shared our organization’s journey to recognizing this need for incorporating critical mentoring into our conversations. We don’t have all the answers, but we are committed to getting there and are actively working on improving. It’s great to be part of an organization that lives its values by owning what we struggle with and publicly declaring that we will figure out how to do better by our students.
One stand-out quote from this session came from Alysa, who shared that in her experience, she has seen Summer Search shift from just being about building relationships, to now being about building relationships and community.
It wasn’t just our fellow staff who responded to these real conversations. The session participants seemed highly engaged in thinking about how they would approach the real-life scenarios that Alysa shared about Summer Searchers’ experiences in college, roll-playing a few specific, tricky situations that our students have brought up to their mentors over the years.
Summer Search’s Unique Mentoring Model Allows for Innovation
At most organizations, mentors are adult volunteers who are each engaged with a single mentee. Summer Search is one of the few organizations employing professional, full-time mentors who work with a caseload of students.
In many ways, this is an asset, and makes Summer Search ideally suited to implement critical mentoring. Since it is a full-time position, mentors have the support and time to be intentional about our approach to mentoring. We receive ongoing training, have daily access to a peer group of other full-time mentors, and can deliver a more consistent mentoring experience to our students.
This foundation gives us the structure and capacity to test new ideas, and therefore gives us an even greater responsibility to put students first in everything we do.
Everyone is Talking About Group Mentoring
One topic that kept coming up during the summit was our Group Mentoring Pilot, a program aimed at testing if Summer Search can support greater numbers of students using a hybrid mentoring model that includes group mentoring, as compared to our standard one-on-one model.
There were many sessions that discussed the benefits of group mentoring. It was great to attend one in particular, Building Effective Group Mentoring Programs: Lessons from Research and Practice on Project Arrive, led by Gabriel Kuperminc, which re-confirmed that Summer Search is implementing and evaluating our pilot in line with the most current and best practices in the field.
It’s exciting that Summer Search is successfully developing a group mentoring curriculum with critical mentoring at the center, and it is incredibly gratifying that Summer Search continues to keep students at the center of what we do, even when it means taking risks and making changes.
Our biggest takeaway from several sessions about critical mentoring is that to do this important work right, we need to put our students first by giving them a voice, not just in mentoring conversations but also in the decisions we make as an organization. Mentoring needs to be something we do with students, not to them.
In that spirit, Summer Search has been taking steps to give the young people that we serve more of a seat at the table. We enlisted the help of students, parents, and alumni to help shape our Males of Color Initiative and we have alumni representatives now serving on all of our local and National boards. We are also working on ways to have our students and alumni more involved in the creation of the curriculum for our Group Mentoring Pilot, and in the organizing and leading of key Summer Search events.
We all know that we are in this work for our students, and when you know better, you do better. We’re grateful for the opportunity to have shared what we know on such a big stage at the National Mentor Conference, and to simultaneously be learning to do better from our dedicated partners in the field. We look forward to seeing how critical mentoring can help us do better for our students.
We’re so proud to have had representation from three of our sites including Eliza in Seattle, Claire in Boston, and Alysa in the Bay Area, as well as Stacy, Salem, Alex, and Stacey from our National team.