By: Christina Gionet
The night before our first mentoring session we learned that over 70 students had signed up for mentoring!!! We were thrilled with the enthusiastic response – we had never imagined so many kids would take advantage of our offer for mentoring. Be careful what you wish for, it may come true!
The UMass mentors all gathered at the van bound for Everett at the appointed time – looking nervous about what they would face when we reached Everett. “Could we handle this many kids?” “What had we gotten ourselves into?”. The conversations centered on feeling overwhelmed by what we faced. Fortunately, the two hour drive gave us time to re-ignite and by the time we drove into the Everett High School parking lot , all of us agreed that we were going to make this mentoring program work – no matter what they threw at us! However, by the time we entered the elevator heading to the library on the fifth floor (with many students crowded in with us) we were looking at each other and yet again wondering whether we should laugh or cry at the number of students showing up.
As we walked into the library we saw over 60 students milling around. Some were already working with high school mentors, others were looking lost, and still others were having a great time chatting with their friends. Peg rushed up to meet us and quickly pushed us to take charge – “pick a table and get started!” Peg said as she rushed off to mentor a group at one table. So, we quickly grabbed information folders for the kids, herded four or five students to a table, and dove in.
One of the more precious moments occurred as I handed out the materials we had brought for the students. In addition to their information packet, we gave each student a copy of “Success with Science”, an inspirational and informative book designed to help high school students learn how to carry out a research project. So many of the students exclaimed “We get to keep these?!”. They simply couldn’t believe we were giving them something to keep. It made me think about the world they live in – that so simple a gesture could touch them so deeply.
Things slowly settled down. Each of the mentors started figuring out how advanced their students were. Some had students who had done research projects before, with a few students even participating in prior science fairs. Other mentors worked with younger students who have never done research before and didn’t have a clue how to even pick a research topic. Although we knew we would be working with students with all levels of prior experience – it was still amazing to see how diverse this population of students really was. As we sorted through what they did and didn’t know about research – we started to ask them to describe their interests and identify projects that matched those interests. Several of my students loved sports and wanted to design a project that focused on athletics. I helped them to understand how to take that interest and construct a research hypothesis. ”No, you can’t just throw a baseball and football and measure how far away they land – there has to be a question you want to answer”.
Frankly, this first session was far tougher than I had expected. These students have active minds, need immediate feeback, have no patience, and have attention spans of seconds. I don’t know how their teachers survive. I was worn out after only two hours of interaction, but it was worth it. I’m looking forward to returning next week!