Passion is something both parents and educators alike tend to encourage because it’s well known we do best learning something that excites us. But what happens when a student has a passion that is not something normally part of a school’s curriculum? Sometimes, the student is fortunate to be able to pursue it outside school, independently or as a team sport or other extracurricular activity.
What if it is something like glassblowing, which requires safety and other training to be able to handle the hot glass? Or rock climbing, which requires lots of training, expensive gear, a climbing partner and access to climbing areas often an hour or more away?
This is where the educational value of the mentorship program at Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe becomes evident. Every year, students at the school learn to identify areas of curiosity, interest and passion and are then matched with adults who work in that area. Over the course of 16 years, the program has had over 1,000 volunteer mentors and has made over 2,000 mentorship matches. In the 2015–16 school year, 120 mentors—with expertise ranging from blacksmithing to emceeing to barrel racing to mathematics to ballet—have given of their time, meeting with their protégés for a minimum of two hours every week.
This cornerstone of the school’s curriculum educates students through hands-on, real-life experiences. Mentorships offer a unique learning environment precisely because they begin with an interest or passion born from the student that they share in a one-on-one relationship. They learn because they feel connected to someone who cares about them and their progress; that is, someone who also sees and fosters their potential to make a significant contribution out in the world with their skills and knowledge. The student benefits from that person, who demonstrates a genuine willingness to believe in him or her and invest time in individualized attention, creating social capital.
Students who have done mentorships in aerial fabrics (acrobatics) or rock climbing, as well as baking or auto mechanics, find that there is a level of physical difficulty, precision and focus far higher than they could have imagined. As a result of their commitment to their mentorship and their mentor’s commitment to them, they are able to master disciplines in ways that may have otherwise eluded them.
Some students deliberately choose mentorships that take them out of their comfort zone. Reflecting on his experience, one student who decided to do a mentorship in partnered Latin dance said, “My desire was to relieve myself from the weight of not being able to dance. And now, in a new world [for him], I can use my newly attained skills to further diversify the way I communicate with people.”
How else does it change lives? This year, two girls did mentorships in social justice with Somos un Pueblo Unido, an organization that works on issues of human rights and immigration. “The bond they forged with their mentor was extraordinary. They were on fire and spoke at the state Legislature. I have no doubt that they will take everything from this mentorship and apply it to life itself as they take their next steps,” says program director, Giselle Piburn.
Monte del Sol’s “Head Learner,” Robert Jessen, says, “The school constantly hears from its graduates and their parents about the impact the program has had on their lives. For instance, Josh Bohoskey, who graduated in 2006, did film mentorships and now works in film and TV in New York City on shows like Saturday Night Live. One boy did a mentorship in beekeeping. His whole family got involved. He is still doing it today!”
Students agree. Senior Amadeo Hughes, who did a mentorship in video editing with videographer Matt Schultze says, “Through moments that proved themselves to be stressful, where everything just didn’t seem to be working, I can speak for a lot of others when I say that my experience included the extensive, unconditional support that my mentor provided whenever necessary.” He added, “When a mentor is proud of your work, that’s a great feeling.”
Senior Lauren Liberty, who did two mentorships this year—one in aerial fabrics with Alex Díaz from Wise Fool and another in piano with musician Criss Jay—echoes this. “There is a mutual understanding that this is something that both of you are passionate about, which creates an automatic connection. It’s a much more intimate teaching because the mentor can really help you and address what’s going wrong or what’s right because there’s time. In a class of 25 there is not time for each individual.”
The program celebrates mentorship each spring with an all-school, three-day Festival of Learning, showcasing the diverse range of learning through mentorship. The program culminates as each student’s learning and experience is enthusiastically shared before audiences of their peers, parents, mentors and teachers, planting seeds of curiosity and interest for future mentorships in the younger students and enriching the entire school community’s appreciation for what they have learned.
For more information about the mentorship program at Monte del Sol or to volunteer to become a mentor, contact Giselle Piburn at 505.982.5225, ext. 115, or email@example.com
Judy Herzl is assistant director of the mentorship program at Monte del Sol. She is also a marketing partner for individuals, organizations and authors. firstname.lastname@example.org