Mentor Corner: James Medina in Miami-Dade School District, Florida

Logo of the Miami-Dade School DistrictThis month’s Mentor’s Corner bring us to James Medina in Miami-Dade School District. Mr. Medina is an EBD program clinician or school counselor, and began working with Check & Connect last school year as part of the Florida’s statewide C&C implementation (link) where existing staff serve as mentors. In addition to his counseling caseload, Mr. Medina both mentors a small case of students (two) in C&C and coordinates the C&C program at the high school where there are currently 2 other mentors.

Here are excerpts from our interview:

Mr. Medina, how does C&C differ from the work you do as a school counselor?
It’s pretty similar in that I’m constantly in contact with my students. But with C&C students I share their [school] data which I wouldn’t necessarily do in a therapy session. The academic part of it, he can see he’s faltering and where he needs to bring up his grade point average or if he has attendance issues. It helps my students stay focused. We work on communicating, verbalizing and advocating for himself. So when they see [their data on the monitoring form] I think it helps them understand what’s going on.

How is your work with families different with your C&C students versus the other students on your caseload?
When I deal with the other parents or other students, sometimes it’s about specific behaviors. I don’t necessarily discuss my observations in the classroom, which I would do with my C&C students. [When I’m talking with parents of C&C students,] we’re talking about future goals, what he’s doing to change his academics, the steps he’s taking to improve himself. We focus on their goals, continuously reminding them of the importance of academic success… so when they leave high school they feel confident to move forward.

What successes have you seen with the students you work with in C&C?
My school is fortunate to offer a residential electrical wiring program. After meeting with my C&C student I felt that he would be a good fit for that program. It’s vocationally oriented but also he had shared with me that he has an interest in engineering, so the residential electrical wiring program kind of fits right in to that realm. In the classroom he feels comfortable because he doesn’t necessarily have to interact with peers a great deal. It’s more hands on. The teacher allows him work at his own pace thus allowing him to confidently learn the material and move forward with the next activity when he is ready.

The other student I work with was referred to me by a teacher. I felt that the Check & Connect would be something that would benefit her, so I started keeping records and keeping track of her. She likes to see improvement, she gets that tangible record of how she’s doing and keeping her grades up. And actually having someone who listens makes a big difference. In my experience, just having an adult that a student can come to and speak with about things that come up is vital. It makes a positive impact on the student’s life.

What does data-sharing look like?
We review their academic grades, absences, assignments, conduct grades, and behavioral referrals. With this information at hand I can ask, “Why haven’t you done this assignment? How can I help you do this project? Are you not able to get access to a computer?” Things that we may take for granted, such as having access to a computer often hinders their ability to complete assignments. The data collection tool is something that needs to be used so the student can see progress or they can start to see a decline. Let’s say for example you have a student who usually gets 3 referrals a week. And then all of a sudden you build a relationship with him and it’s now down to 1 referral a week. If you start to show evidence of positive progress the student will begin to feel empowered to control their destiny.

When you are working with your students, how do you celebrate success?
We celebrate any form of success; it can be making a slight improvement of their grade point average, arriving on time to class, participating in a classroom activity, completing a project, or advocating for themselves. I try to build on their success no matter how small. Remaining positive and building on positive accomplishments allows them to realize success is possible.

What challenges do you face?
Economic hardships and the lack of parental involvement are a few of the challenges the students and school faces on a daily basis. Many families struggle financially in our community. Some of our students are migrant workers; their parents work on the farms. And due to seasonal crops they may have to move their families to follow the available work. Due to the financial stress many students do not have a computer or internet access in the home which obviously hinders their ability to complete projects and homework assignments. It is also a challenge to communicate with the parents: many parents work long hours in the fields and do not have access to a telephone.

Keeping the students focused on completing high school is another challenge. Many students often work in the fields with their parents, therefore completing high school is not the immediate priority.

So how do you overcome that? With students and families living day-to-day, or being distracted by other things in the community, how do you inspire them to dream bigger?
You need to build a good relationship with the students and parents. I discuss with the students about future goals and how they plan to obtain them. I place all the responsibility on the students. I ask them, “Do you want to follow others or do you want to stand out and do what you need to do?”

Our school has embraced the mindset of empowering our students to make a positive change. Our school sponsors college tours with our students and takes them on field trips all over the state of Florida. A month ago we had over 85 colleges come and set up in our gym and all the classes attended throughout the day. We have colleges visit our school and speak with juniors and seniors about the application process and financial aid. We also have the military recruiters visit our school to share with students the opportunities in the armed forces. So we’re constantly exposing our students to opportunities available to them after they complete high school.

How did you work to integrate C&C in your school?
I work with great administrators. I can’t tell you how much that makes a difference. I’m very lucky here that I have an administrative team that works and communicates with each other. We all work hand-in-hand making sure we’re looking out for the best interest of the child. We ask ourselves, “How do we make that student successful? How do we put that student in a place where they’re going to be successful, be given that opportunity to be successful?” We work as a team, so we make group decisions on what is the best interest of the child, and we always include the parent. Without positive reinforcement from our administration, none of this could happen. It starts with the administrative team.

You mentioned the need for more mentors doing this work in your school. If someone where thinking about mentoring a student with C&C, what would you tell them?
It doesn’t take much work. As a clinician it’s second nature for me, when working with students to ask them questions, about their goals and their future plans. I think that’s why we all join this profession, to make a positive change in these student’s lives. Being a C&C mentor is not as difficult as it might seem to be. It’s worth the effort you put into it. We’re in the field of education to help our students. I feel this program is a valuable tool for those who need that extra attention in school, or need an adult in their life who’s going to work with them to reach their full potential. You can see the potential in every student after you meet with them.

I want to thank Mr. Medina for taking the time to share with me his valuable experience and words of wisdom, as well as the amazing work that he is doing with kids. As we finished our interview, he told me, It’s worthwhile. It’s for the kid’s benefit. This is what we value.”

Mentor Corner: Interviews of passionate Check & Connect mentors

Editor’s note: See more interviews of passionate Check & Connect mentors in the Mentor Corner.

Photo of Jana HallasAbout 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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