Mentoring During a Pandemic

A month ago, it was business as usual.

Across our five regions, our staff mentors were busy welcoming new sophomores into Summer Search and supporting our juniors and seniors with their post-secondary planning, while our communities celebrated together in the Bay Area and New York City.

Then everything changed. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the world and is disproportionately affecting our most under-resourced communities.

In these vulnerable and unpredictable times, Summer Search remains committed to supporting our young people and their families. Our staff is finding innovative ways to continue to provide mentoring — offering a much-needed safe space for our students to process, explore, and relate to what is happening in the world.

Staying Connected

BA_Zoom_Group_logoBay Area students on a Group Mentoring video chat, led by mentor Gabrielle.

Summer Search is uniquely able to continue to provide our in-depth programming and supportive relationships to our young people during this public health crisis.

While physical distancing restricts in-school support and place-based service providers, our regular mentoring continuesweekly conversations between a student and a professional staff mentor. Though, that process has certainly looked a bit different these last few weeks.

For some of our mentors, this has meant holding space via phone or video chat for young people to voice their concerns and help navigate the new realities of the global pandemic.

For others, this has looked like sharing resources from the CDC, local agencies, and other aid organizations as our students’ families work to recover lost wages and access legal support — particularly for those who are undocumented.

For high school seniors specifically, our post-secondary advisors are focusing conversations to support students as they process a lot of unknowns around college acceptance, financial aid, campus visits, and standardized test cancellations.

Our post-secondary teams are working hard to make contingency plans and stay in contact with our university and college partners to help mitigate worry and come up with virtual alternatives to campus visits.

Group Mentoring In Place

Our mentors have moved swiftly to ensure that our students remain connected with their peers in the midst of school closures and social distancing.

Normally, group mentoring sessions are in-person conversations with six to 12 students and a mentor facilitator. Now, these meetings have moved to video chats, prioritizing the safety and well-being of our community. Despite the technical and conversational hurdles that come with video conferencing, our students and mentors are staying optimistic and open minded.

Philadelphia Group MentoringPhiladelphia students on a Group Mentoring video chat, led by mentors Carlos and Erin.

“We pushed through the awkwardness of not being able to see each other in person,” explains Bay Area student Karen. “Overall though, it still felt meaningful and it was only the first one so naturally the next couple (sessions) should improve.”

Bay Area mentor Anika Gillespie-Jones described her first group mentoring video session as “Overwhelming, yet pleasant! My students made it very easy for me to conduct the modified curriculum and throughout the whole session we all laughed.”

As Anika mentions, we have adjusted our group mentoring curriculum to focus on holding space for Summer Searchers to come together to process their emotions and reactions to the pandemic. Despite experiencing a wide range of feelings — boredom, loneliness, insecurity, uncertainty, and anxiety — our students remain reflective and resilient. They’re not only providing support for each other during the group sessions, they’re also taking the lead and bringing the collective learnings from their group back to their own families and communities.

Conducting virtual group sessions are challenging but the students are what makes doing them worth it,” Anika says. “These sessions provide (students) a safe place as a group to come together still throughout this hard time that we are all facing. I cannot wait ’til the second one!”

So many individuals in our local communities are facing significant emotional, psychological, and financial impacts. Our mentoring is critical to our young people to help them process and deal with the realities of this current crisis while helping them develop resilience and agency to help them now and for what is coming in the long-term.

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