College Ready? Count on Near-Peer Mentors
There are diverse and complex post-secondary obstacles impacting all our students, but in this post I will focus on college-bound students, whom schools often assume will be successful regardless of their capacity issues.
After all, these students likely graduated in the top 25% or with honors. They likely took dual enrollment courses for college credit. They likely seemed ready for college based on grades, standardized test scores, or other quantitative metrics. On paper, it looks like the schools fulfilled their role in preparing these students for their futures.
When we imagine the obstacles facing college-bound students, we often resort to their lack of financial resources. This is a definitive issue, but it is not entirely addressable while students are enrolled in K-12 schools.
If our schools could integrate teaching “the hidden curriculum,” then all students, particularly those heading to college, would benefit once they graduate.
It is no secret our school employees are not only underpaid, but also overburdened. As a result, our K-12 public schools often do not have the capacity to educate students on cultural identity, institutional norms, networking, career and internship opportunities, socio-emotional health, and other “hidden” lessons to thrive in society.
This is where I believe near-peer mentorship programs can make the difference.
My current work in the classroom is teaching college access lessons through my nonprofit organization, College Scholarship Leadership Access Program (CSLAP). When I introduce near-peer mentorship programs at our schools, or simply connect students to near-peer mentors, I grant college students aged 18-25 a platform to teach “the hidden curriculum” to their former classmates.
CSLAP models the “community in the classroom” approach I believe should be studied, funded, and replicated throughout the state. My years of teaching, lesson planning, and programming experiences enable me to perform tasks that school employees often cannot – not because of their inability or incompetence, but rather their capacity.
Alongside teachers and counselors, I fill in gaps in the college readiness programming at respective schools. That includes training young people in basic instruction informed by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, such as writing college essays under ELA standards, while also developing a framework for them to cultivate meaningful relationships with mentees.
In the short-term, near-peer mentors make the process of attending college easier by bestowing their expertise on subjects they know first-hand. From campus life to professional development, they share invaluable advice with first-generation college students who now have a mentor who recently walked in their shoes.
In the long-term, near-peer mentors make their communities a better place by reducing the negative effects of brain-drain, bringing their social capital back home for those who will come after. Their life paths serve as roadmaps for students who will one day work in the community and become the leaders of tomorrow.
In our schools, our work must go beyond the metrics of college enrollment and completion; we must also focus on the qualitative aspects of the college journey, including personal and professional growth.
The big picture: College access is merely the medium through which we can bring the community into the classroom. If near-peer mentorship can result in university acceptances, college completion, and pathways to careers, what can other community engagement models accomplish for all our K-12 students?