Education Week, a publication about issues and trends in American education, recently shared a story detailing the importance of mentors – in the plural – for high school students. The basis of the piece was that adolescents who have a “web” of supportive people around them, rather than just a single support person, were more likely to stay in school.
Upon reading this article, I started thinking about my own upbringing. I should preface by saying that I was in no way an at-risk student. I grew up in a loving, supportive dual-parent household. My mom and dad stressed the importance of honesty and hard work, and they made huge sacrifices to help me explore, grow, and learn as a child. Looking towards my future, there was never any doubt that I would attend college; college was a “when and where” conversation, not an “if” conversation.
I loved family time and learning time, and for the most part, was a pretty well-adjusted kid. But even so, high school is hard, and I had my own share of trials and tribulations. From navigating the social scene, to discovering my strengths and making hard decisions, to understanding the adult politics that inevitably make their way into student life, having a few select supporters and their fresh, outside perspective made a difference in the course of my life.
Three specific adult mentors in my own web, who offered personal support to me during my own learning journey, come to mind. To them, I am so grateful: Mrs. Deitmen, who helped me steer 15 years of English education together towards the path of communications in the business world — because I had difficulty wrapping my head around the fact that I could make a living through my passion for writing; Mr. Holecki, for holding his students to a higher standard even in the face of pressure — because the easy way oftentimes isn’t the “right” way; and for Coach McHugh, who taught me that so many situations in life are unfair and beyond your control — but you are always the master of your own integrity and how you choose to respond.
Back in a school setting as an adult and professional with children of my own, I have a greater appreciation for the web and what it can do for a child. Even with the changing of time, some things remain constant… and the need for diverse and authentic student guidance seems even greater than ever. No longer the “spider” relying on my own web, I am now part of the web, itself, for others. Together, the adults in our small school community at Harrisburg Academy work to know each student and teach to the “whole child,” and in turn, are able to mentor with confidence and incredible insight. This is how you take “good” to “great” and change lives, and it’s an honor to watch these kids thrive because of it.