by Michael Rogers

Last October, I wrote a blog post about the importance of mentor teams at the University of Richmond and the plan to further develop these programs. Then, the primary goal was to sustain our three longest-running mentor teams through critical leadership transitions. Each was losing a visionary leader that had either started or grown the program with full ownership of its success. Last year, we weren’t sure if they would all last.

Today, I’m thankful to report that all three of these mentor teams survived and are better than ever. I promise I’m not bragging—the students who are now leading these programs are incredible. And they have taken complete responsibility of their work while I get to meet with them regularly and check on their progress. The three programs are: Future American Men of Excellence (FAME, an all-male program at Henderson Middle School), Girl Talk (an all-female program at Henderson), and YMCA Super Stars (a co-ed program for elementary students at the Northside Family YMCA).

Since these programs have been doing so well, the next goal for this mentor team project has been to develop a system of observation and support. In particular, two of my coworkers and I have been focused on four teams: Irish Dance (Henderson), and three teams associated with Pathways to a College Experience (PACE) at John Marshall High School.
First, with the Irish Dance program, my supervisor, Cassie Price, noticed that the program was struggling to engage with the students in the group. She committed to visiting this program every week and working with the leaders of the program to develop lesson plans and engage participants. Because none of the participants had ever experienced Irish dance before, there was more of a cultural divide. While the style of dance is probably not a favorite of program participants, with Cassie’s help the quality of the experience was improved throughout the semester.

The three PACE teams required a slightly different approach. Each of these teams is run by a seasoned veteran so weekly observation was not necessary. Instead, I worked with my coworker, Adrienne Piazza, to develop an observation-feedback rubric that we used once for each team this semester. In practice, we visited the team on the day that they visited the school to observe their session and take notes on various aspects of quality mentoring such as trust building and preparation. Then, the next week we met with the team to discuss their program.

Through both approaches, the goal has been to make sure the mentors feel supported and to ensure the quality of their work. For the most part, mentors were excited to hear how they were doing and improve their program. Next semester, we are going to further develop this program: I will be committing to two after-school programs at Henderson. I will be reviewing their lessons in advance and accompanying them to the school each week. In addition, we are going to continue our work with PACE students. I hope both will be beneficial for the programs and improve the overall quality of the experience for mentors and mentees alike.