Each week throughout the school year, 12-15 students from Barclay join in a mentoring partnership with Goucher students and spend a day together in enrichment activities. For the last year, the program has taken an arts-based approach, and offers a range of activities from African drum and dance, to spoken word poetry, theatre, photography, or visual art. The program has always targeted seventh graders, because it is the most important year in terms of competitive high school enrollment in Baltimore City. The goals of the program have remained simple: to promote college access, develop and nurture critical skills (like communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution), and to encourage mentor-mentee relationships that provide social capital and role models that will help the children navigate their futures. The program is hosted on Goucher’s campus in the Pinkard Community Service Center, and in addition to the enrichment activities includes a shared dinner between mentors and mentees, which adds depth to the program, and gives the Barclay students investment and ownership over Goucher spaces, ultimately enabling them to envision themselves in college.
Leader, Morgan Stevens explains:
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Morgan Stevens. I’m a junior psychology major, Spanish minor from Potomac, Maryland. I’ve been involved with the Goucher Mentoring Program since my first semester at Goucher but preceding that, I also participated in an early immersion program called FOSTER. FOSTER involved a tour of East Baltimore and information about the Baltimore Public School system and lasted three days before I officially became a first-year student. Throughout this Spring semester I’ve been attempting to fine-tune my plans for when I graduate and have come to the conclusion that I’d like to work toward becoming a middle school principal. I can say without a doubt that this thought is grounded in my work with the Goucher and Barclay students in the Goucher Mentoring program.
How did the Goucher Mentoring Program come into existence?
The Middle School Mentoring Program, originally the Lemmel Middle School Mentoring Program, was established in 1999 by the late Carol Weinberg, a beloved member of Goucher’s faculty and staff. For many years the program was supported in collaboration with the Gettysburg Consortium of Colleges (Gettysburg, UMBC, Notre Dame, and Goucher) and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. When Lemmel was closed in 2008, the program was moved to Barclay Middle School. For fifteen years, the program has served seventh grade students in Baltimore City Public Schools.
What’s your favorite thing about doing the program?
As a leader of the program I have the amazing opportunity to mentor not only the Barclay students but Goucher students as well. This takes my work with the program outside of solely the Wednesday sessions. Also, since we’re working with the seventh graders at Barclay and we recently began operating with an interview-style admissions process, we have a community of students with whom I feel comfortable having serious, young-adult conversations. However, I’d say that one of the coolest aspects of being involved in the program is when the theories of adolescent development or psychology come alive in my work with the Goucher and Barclay students and I’m able to apply my studies to my real-life experience. I couldn’t ask for a more experiential learning environment.
What goals do you hope the students will accomplish with the program?
One of the intentions behind creating a space in which the students have the time to interact with college students on a college campus is that they can practice advocating for themselves in a variety of ways. Goucher Mentoring is designed to honor and celebrate the vocabularies and stories that the Barclay and Goucher students come in with and to challenge them to expand them to include new perspectives and ideas about the world: locally and globally.
Will you describe some of the activities in detail that the students are learning/doing?
This semester each week is comprised of a different small group or paired conversation about the similarities and differences between the middle school and college student experience. There has been a sprinkling of larger group activities that have involved theater exercises and these have also been intended to illustrate the underlying similarities between the Goucher and Barclay student lens. We’ve also instituted the “snap cup” from Legally Blonde which involves a period of time during dinner when students are given slips of paper on which to write observations or compliments about people in the group anonymously that will later be read aloud. The person’s whose name was read out may keep the complimentary slip of paper.
The idea behind the snap cup is to build in a community ritual and to strengthen the relationships between the mentors and the mentees. The final project and gift is a scrapbook in which the kids can place all of the artwork they have produced throughout the program.
What is your favorite aspect about working with middle school students?
Middle school students in particular are honest and because they are honest they require me and the Goucher students I work with to respond with authenticity to match them. . I greatly value my bus conversations with the students who utilize that time to ask questions about the college experience or even just to tell me what’s been going on in their world. I’m happy to listen.
Can you share a story or an achievement that took place in the program this year?
I have been immensely proud of those Goucher and Barclay students who have stepped up and taken the initiative to lead an “energizer” or warm-up activity. The Barclay students have taken the opportunity to open up several sessions with activities they’ve played in school or with their families and have done an excellent job explaining the directions to their peers and to the Goucher students. It has been such a step forward to be able to pass the leadership baton over to the other members of the Goucher Mentoring community and to watch the growth that has occurred as a result.
What are the biggest lessons that you hope to instill with the young people that you work with?
One lesson I hope to impart in my Goucher “mentors” and my Barclay “mentees” is that there is a world outside of your neighborhood that is waiting to be explored but also that your neighborhood is something that will always be a part of the way you view the world. I always encourage the young people I work with to find things about where they come from that they can be proud of, but also to be critical analysts of what can be better.
What does the future look like for the Goucher Mentoring Program?
As of now I can safely say that we will be working on an increased emphasis on leadership, particularly through hands-on activities and reflective conversations. In addition, we will be looking to expand our repertoire of arts-based education especially with an eye to involving artists from the City in our lessons. I’m looking forward to seeing how the program grows with the new voices that will be involved.
“Goucher Mentoring” is a program of Community-Based Learning & Community Service Programs at Goucher College, a partner to The Barclay School since 2008.
Photo Credit: Liam Gandelsman