Alternative spring break is magical, authentic mentoring

Who do kids really listen to?

All school year long, I pump my students full of advice. Aside from the content of my literature classes, I give out tips on everything from managing time to restaurant etiquette, and let me tell you, it is some darn good advice. Sometimes it’s like group therapy in my classroom.

Alas, my words of wisdom often don’t elicit the mindset-altering effects I aim for. Even with a great rapport with most of my students, there is a real difference when they hear “Do not sell yourself short on your college applications,” from me, a 31-year-old teacher, and when they hear it from someone just a year or two older than them.

Earlier this month, seven Harvard University undergrads stayed for a week at my school on an alternative spring break, or “Service Break” program. Instead of partying in Cancun, they chose service-learning. I brought them into my 11th- and 12th-grade classes as much as I could, and they were phenomenal role models.

Here are 3 comments from SEED upperclassmen that Jake, a Harvard freshman, recorded on their group blog:

“For a lot of the time, for the work that we put in, it’s hard to see the end goal. We’ve been taking standardized tests and writing so many essays for the last two years and thinking this application process is never going to end. But meeting you guys, we feel recharged. I used to feel nervous about college and managing everything, but I know now that I can do it.”

“You taught me not to let the past prevent me from succeeding in the future. I know I don’t have the best GPA and was scared about applying to some of my reach schools, but you guys taught me to go for it and try anyway because I know in the future I can do the work and make the grade.”

“We’ve been working so hard since we got here and now we’re reaching the end and just for you all to get us excited about the next step means so much. Having someone appreciate your work and remind you why you pushed yourself so hard in the first place really picks us up.”

It’s eye-opening. Grown-ups can huff and puff all day long and some of it gets across, but young people really listen to each other.

Do you know any outstanding mentoring programs for high school students?

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