I am very happy to announce a new addition to our blog posts, the Mentor Corner. So much good work is happening with Check & Connect mentors and their mentees around the country and the world, so we wanted to share a bit of that good work with you! With the Mentor Corner, I will be interviewing a different mentor each month to share their experiences, challenges, successes, and advice with the Check & Connect community. I hope you enjoy the first of our monthly mentor interviews!
DeKalb County Schools • Stone Mountain, GA
I recently had the opportunity to interview Yamileth Aubain and asked if she would share her experiences with me. Ms. Aubain is in her second year working as a Check & Connect Student Engagement Coach in DeKalb County Schools, a large urban district outside of Atlanta, Georgia. In Dekalb, they have 50 full-time Check & Connect mentors whom they call Student Engagement Coaches.
I began by asking Ms. Aubain why she chose to apply for the position of Student Engagement Coach after she had been working as a teacher. She explains, “I wanted to do more outside of the classroom with students who were struggling. I had previously mentored a group of middle school girls, and I really enjoyed watching the whole process with them and watching them grow and become more responsible.”
I followed up with asking her how working with Check & Connect in a mentoring capacity differs from the previous mentoring work that she had done. She states, “I am able to use data-driven strategies, which I did not have before as a mentor. I have more flexibility working with other support staff and administrators and tap into their resources. When I collect my data weekly, I look to see what their grades look like, their attendance, and if they have any behavior referrals. I use the data to decide which concept to address with more priority or less priority.”
While Ms. Aubain has a very positive tone and states that she really enjoys her work, I realize it can’t all be as easy as she makes it sound, so I ask: Do you have any challenges in working with students? She describes how the biggest challenge is the cognitive connections, or getting students to understand how their choices impact their current school work and their future. She explains, “Because they are adolescents they can struggle with what choices affect their lives, their grades, or graduating on time.” I inquire how she overcomes this challenge with her students. “I keep the conversation going with making the right choices. I show them their grades when they choose not to do their homework or not to attend to tutorials, or they choose to do their homework and attend tutorials and what the impact there has been from those choices. We go over each assignment, or if they did their homework or prepared for a test, and they see how the right choice — or the wrong choice — impacts their grade.”
At the beginning of last school year Ms. Aubain began working with 9th grade students who were selected based on data from their 8th grade year. We discuss how she begins to work with these students who have been struggling with school and making the right choices, and how she is able to help guide them to the right path. She explains, “The first thing I do is establish a relationship and trust. I have a candid trusting conversation with them. I don’t judge their behavior; I don’t criticize it. I empathize with their behavior and the choices they are making. We sit down and converse about the choices of good or bad behavior. We also talk about the emotions they have during the behavior. I try to pinpoint what exactly is causing the behavior and to look for resources that can accommodate their behavior needs. I engage the parents also and I share strategies for encouraging and supporting good behavior.” I inquire further about how she gets to where she can share strategies with parents and be well received. She explains, “I establish a rapport with parents and build a relationship of trust. I contact them weekly. If I cannot talk to them on the phone, I will send a text of updates, notifications, celebrations, and reminders so that they have trust and believe I am looking out for their child. I continue to reach out to them and communicate with them.”
As Ms. Aubain continues to describe the work that she does with all of her students, their parents and the school staff, I have to admit… it sounds a bit overwhelming! I ask her about this and how she is able to do all of this work for each mentee. How does she keep a balance? She explains, “I have 50 on my caseload. Not all of them are in crisis every day. They don’t all need intensive interventions every week. I try to balance. First, all those kids with behavioral issues, second, those with attendance referrals, and then those with failing grades. I also target those involved with gangs and dealing with drugs as a priority. If I don’t see them [because they are not at school], I make connections with the parents or the teachers.”
I then ask her what keeps her going every day. She laughs as she responds, “Oh my goodness! The students! When they come looking for me and get that reassurance, ‘I have someone I can go to, to help me with something. I have a question. I have a need. I know I can count on this person.’ To see them turn it around and get good grades and get good reports from their teachers, that motivates me.”
As we near the end of our interview, I ask if there is any advice that she would give to new mentors as they begin Check & Connect with students. She responds with these tips: “Perseverance. Never give up on the student. It takes time. Some students take longer than others. Always maintain parental communication. They can be your best ally and support system when dealing with the students. It’s the way you contact [parents]. ‘I am just trying to see if your student is okay? Is there something I can help with?’ Offer the help first.”
“Try to understand. Make it a priority to be culturally aware and sensitive about students and families you are working with.”
“Celebrate little steps! Keep encouraging [students] and always be candid and honest with them. If they are going to fail the semester they need to know that! I am candid with them, while trying not to make them feel bad, and being mindful of their emotional well-being.”
“Maintain relationships with the teachers and the support staff. It’s all about communication. I ask [teachers] how I can assist them with supporting the students in their classes. I communicate with the teachers with the same consistency as the parents. I try to be visible and helpful. Always communicate: ‘I am here to support you, too. ‘How can I help you with this student?’
I would like to thank Ms. Aubain for not only taking the time to talk to me and being willing to share her experiences with the Check & Connect world, but also for the amazing work she is doing with her students in DeKalb County, Georgia, under the supervision of coordinators Michele Summerlin and Dr. Darnell Logan. Before we ended our conversation, I asked Ms. Aubain if she had any final thoughts, and I leave you with her inspiring words:
“I love what I do! We are making a difference!”
About the Author: Jana Hallas, M.Ed., is a project coordinator and member of the Check & Connect training team at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.
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