By: David Mena, 2015 American Youth Leadership Participant
CBI Snapshot blogs highlight the Community Based Initiatives (CBI) implemented by AMIGOS Youth Ambassador and American Youth Leadership participants in their local communities in the United States. Community Based Initiatives challenge young people to lead and collaborate with their communities for positive development. Our first snapshot comes from David Mena, a 2015 American Youth Leader Participant and senior in high school at Houston Academy for International Studies.
When I was faced with the question of what I wanted to change in my community, I always knew that I wanted to tackle education inequality. I wanted to close the achievement between those students who had access to educational resources and those who did not. I figured that the best way for me to accomplish this was to start in a place where I had enough leverage to influence people; my school and through mentorship. I attend The Houston Academy for International Studies, which is an inner city high school, located in midtown Houston. The school focuses on preparing students for university and their roles in society as global citizens. It is a small high-school program, designed to serve up to 400 students in grades 9 through 12. The Academy is a partnership with the Houston Independent School District, the Houston Community College Central Campus, Houston A+ Challenge and the Asia Society’s Network of International Studies Schools. HAIS offers rigorous curriculum to prepare students for college and beyond. Students at HAIS take Pre Advanced Placement, Advanced Placement, and HCC courses to ensure college success. This rigorous curriculum allows the high school student to integrate the Distinguished Diploma requirements with HCC college credits. Students who graduate from HAIS will have a Texas Scholar diploma, as well as the opportunity to accumulate up to 60 college credits, which may be transferable to the post-secondary institution of their choice. At HAIS, students have the opportunity to earn an Associate’s Degree from Houston Community College. Students are embedded in regular college classes and attend class alongside college students at the college Campus.
As great of a school as HAIS is, there are noticeable disparities among the student body, especially when it comes to their educational successes. I am aware this is not a problem that is exclusive to HAIS; nevertheless the situation motivated me to want social change. HAIS is relatively a new school. The class of 2016 will be the 7th graduating class. The curriculum is very demanding of students who are not necessarily familiar or fond of how the HAIS curriculum work compared to a regular high school. Although the school has done a great job implementing this system of teaching, in my eyes, there are some fundamental flaws. The school gives a great deal of independence to lower classmen and they are not given sufficient explanation as to how the curriculum works. As a result many of the students lose motivation through their high school career as their fellow students are able to take advantage of opportunities they are not even aware of. I saw this happen to many students in my four years at HAIS, and decided to stand up and do something about it for my community based initiative. I envisioned a student body that valued the effect that education had in their future. Therefore, my mission was to catalyze intrinsic motivation for education in the students through a sustainable mentorship program where top performing students advised, mentored, and tutored struggling scholars.
When I returned from the international training on July 2015, I started on my CBI by creating a leadership team. I contacted my school’s National Honor Society president and showed her my action plan. Once she was on board with it, we started to work on a pitch for the administration and we started to recruit members who were interested in solving the problem. Once school started, I gave a brief presentation to the schools NHS team and recruited possible mentors. There was an online survey that interested future mentors had to complete in order to be considered. By the time September came around, I had the list of the final 17 mentors who I wanted to be part of the mentorship program. All 17 mentors had very impressive qualities and very different personalities; however they were all in the top 25% of their class. In early October, I had a meeting with the school’s Vice Principal. I presented a proposal and asked for an opportunity to showcase to the whole faculty and staff what I had already accomplished and my vision for the school in the upcoming months. The Vice-Principal was impressed by what I was trying to do, and organized a meeting with the administration on Friday, November 16th. This window of opportunity gave me a change to prepare a formal presentation that would include all 17 mentors. Once November 6th came around my leadership team was ready to present. We received very positive feedback from all the administration and the faculty. We asked for all teachers to submit recommendations for any ideal mentees they had in mind. We received an overwhelming amount of mentee recommendations from counselors and teachers alike. Sadly we were only 17 mentors and had to cut the number of mentees to 22. Nevertheless, by the end of November I all had all the mentors and mentees paired up by personality and educational preferences. As soon as we returned from Thanksgiving Break, we had a launch party where all the mentees and mentors got to know each other. The party was planned in advance therefore we were able to get donations for food and snacks. From then on, it was the responsibility of each mentor to meet with their mentee at least twice a week. I would check on each mentor every Friday in order to check how their relationship with their mentee was. The program was a success, I got feedback from teachers and mentees of grade improvement and although there is still work to do, and a formal evaluation to complete; The HAIS Mentorship Program has gotten wider recognition and is showing positive results.