Program Mentors Students From Sophomore Year to Graduation

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

For many high school students and their parents, the road to college can be hectic and confusing. There are lots of forms to fill out, requirements to fulfill and tests to take. But if you are one of the 200 or so Montebello Unified School District students lucky enough to participate in the school district’s College Bound Today (CBT) program, those tasks may be easier due to the help and encouragement received from volunteer mentors.

At least that’s the word from students and their families who for the last two years have taken part in the mentorship program dedicated to guiding high school students on the road to college.

High school seniors met  Jan. 25 at Schurr High school to learn about financial aid. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

High school seniors met Jan. 25 at Schurr High school to learn about financial aid. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

MUSD’s College Bound program pairs sophomores with mentors who work with them until they graduate. Now, CBT is looking to double in size to nearly 400 students, but will need at least 85 more volunteer mentors to succeed.

“[CBT] adds another adult into a student’s life,” explains Andy Castillo, a former college counselor at Schurr High School and current Assistant Principal at Montebello High School. “It allows [counselors] to get to know the students sooner.”

The program is currently offered at Schurr, Montebello and Bell Gardens high schools, and will soon expand to include students at Applied Technology Center (ATC), the district’s newest high school.

ATC, which has opened one grade a year since it first opened and now goes through the 11th grade, will soon offer the CBT mentorship program to sophomores and juniors. CBT co-founder Dan Clement is hoping local college graduates and professionals will agree to volunteer one Saturday morning out of the month to help mentor the students.

“Its really nice to give back to students,” mentor James Do told EGP before meeting with his students Saturday. “I see myself as an information provider, but really more of a life coach.”

Students apply to the program in their sophomore year and the district picks 40 to 50 students who have demonstrated a desire to go to college from each high school to participate.

Although many of those chosen are top students, some are “middle of the road” and need the extra guidance to succeed, said Castillo.

“I think all of the students in the program would have gone to college anyway,” says mentor Robin Meyers. “But I think many of them will be going to better colleges than they would have had they not been a part of it.”

The program groups eight to nine students with three mentors, who meet with them weekly to talk about colleges, SAT’s, career choices and financial aid.

“The three mentors per group not only allows flexibility to the mentors, but it enables them to cover three times as many students,” Clement said. “They are able to develop a bond and there’s a trust there.”

The mentorships have the added value of helping to ease the workload of the high school college counselors who work alongside the program. Financial cutbacks have decreased the number of counselors at local schools, leaving those that remain with as many as 800 to 900 students assigned to them.

“When does one college counselor have time to meet with [all of] them and their parents?” asked Clement. “Normally that doesn’t happen until 12th grade and by then it’s too late.”

The mentorship “simplifies the college experience,” said Jonathan Palomino, a program coordinator. “[Mentors] turn the process from this monster and break it down into steps,” he told EGP.

Last Saturday, Schurr High School’s CBT junior and senior groups listened to a presentation on financial aid during their mentorship meeting. Parents were invited to attend the presentation which covered the federal student aid application (FAFSA), and helped parents learn more about paying for college.

What began two years ago as a group of “shy and awkward” sophomores, with not much to say, has grown into a group of seniors gleaming with pride as they talk to their mentors about acceptance letters and college life.

High school senior Derrick Lieu said the mentors not only “talked them through the process” of getting into college, they also “helped me learn more about myself and helped me discover my passions.”

“They [mentors] showed a genuine concern for my interests and my college career,” Lieu said. “Once [mentors] show that, they will build this unbreakable connection, which makes me think I will still be friends with them even after college.”

Mentor Amit Sen says he is grateful that his students have accepted him, and like many of his fellow mentors who watched their mentees grow into young adults, he is looking forward to attending their graduation.

“It’s more than getting into college, it’s developing these students into future contributors to the world,” Do said.

A reception will be held at Montebello High School on Feb. 23 at 2p.m. for prospective mentors to learn more about the program and the mentor’s role. By then, Clement expects to have completed the launch of Applied Technology’s CBT program and hopes he will have recruited the 75 to 85 mentors needed to launch this year’s sophomore class in the spring.

“In the past it has been manageable to recruit enough mentors, but this year we’re trying to double the size” of the program to include more students.

 

To learn more about the program or to volunteer as a mentor, contact Dan Clement at (213) 346-3281 or email dclement@communitypartners.org.

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Twitter: @nancyreporting
nmartinez@egpnews.com
 
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January 30, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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