You Can Make A Difference
Mentor #1 with mentee SD
Mentor #1 with mentee CD
Date of meeting: 3/2/18
CD seems pretty closed off. He responds to questions very quietly but I’m glad he actually answers at all. We worked on a geometry “quiz” where the goal was to go over each question either in a group or solo and then call over the teacher to explain it to her once you or your group understand all the question/answers. It took all of the time I had with him to finish the worksheet. Each of the questions was solving for missing angles based on a given picture with some of the angles given. We went through each question very slowly and I asked him very specific questions to try to get him on the right track. Ultimately, I felt like I ended up giving him the final step that actually led to the answer to the question. At the minimum, I gave him way too many of the steps for him to fully understand what was going on. I realized that CD was missing the basic algebra required to do the angle solving. When I asked him how he did in algebra, he answered “I passed”; later the counselor told me that he actually didn’t have a grade in algebra and he might simply be unaware of what had happened in that class. Throughout the worksheet I asked him if he understood what we had just done and each time he very quietly affirmatively grunted. At some points when he was stuck, he would ask me how to do the problem, so this might suggest that given appropriate help/guidance he will actively attempt to do problems. Overall, he didn’t seem averse to do the worksheet but wasn’t excited to do it either. Because of this (i.e. his willingness to at least try), I think progress can be made, however slowly.
Date of meeting: 3/12/2018
This day was quite surreal. I got to the school much earlier this time around and walked into the mostly empty classroom (the student population might just be low or many simply don’t go to class) and found that there was no teacher. I asked CD what was going on and he said that they were waiting for the substitute. While waiting I pointed out how the classroom trash bin was overflowing; CD added that the janitor only really cleans the halls and that the water has lead in it. He went on to explain that a lot of people end up leaving the school because of its various problems and that he too is going to move where his mom lives. We sat around for probably 15 minutes and I decided to tell CD that we should just do whatever other work that he had, but he said that he had none. The board said to do worksheets but I didn’t see them anywhere and didn’t bother digging deeper to find them. I was getting restless at this point so I decided to go to the main office to let them know that the class had been waiting for a teacher for over 20 minutes. The lady there told me that they were missing 8 teachers today and were cut pretty thin and that I should continue waiting but letting me know that the teacher is amazing and always has a worksheet for the class to do; she wasn’t wrong but the worksheet was nowhere to be found.
I could have just gone back up and waited since the sub did end up coming within the next 10 minutes, but I think I didn’t want to go back to a near empty classroom. Eventually, I made my way back to the classroom where the sub had just arrived and was distributing the worksheets. CD and I had about 30 minutes of reasonable working time but the classroom was crazy. There were conversations happening very loudly across the room, people were on their phones, laughing, etc. They were generally being extremely disturbing and a minority were actually doing their worksheets. After that 30-ish minutes, suddenly another boy decided to sit next to me and start calling CD “mentally retarded.” I couldn’t tell if they were friends and he was being ironic, but CD didn’t respond, so, of course, I was just really confused. I decided to move to an adjacent classroom where the teacher was very accommodating. I continued to work with CD and the “mentally retarded” boy eventually appeared in the class and might have spouted it out again but quickly found his friends and didn’t directly disturb us any more.
CD consistently asked me what time it was and around 5 minutes before the period ended, he said he needed to go to the bathroom and asked me to write him a pass; I told him to get a pass from the teacher. He did and I asked him if he would be coming back; he said yes but I already knew he was lying and he was. I turned in his worksheets, one of which we actually managed to finish but the other had hardly been scratched, and went back to Berkeley after forgetting to sign out on the sign in sheet (I’ll remember next time).
Overall this was quite the experience and I really enjoyed it even if I got pretty annoyed at times. With CD telling me that he will be moving away, we might not see the fruits of our work but surely it’s good practice to apply to someone else along the line. I think simply being able to do this is giving me an educational experience that few of my peers will ever have and that will profoundly influence my attempts to address the underlying issues at a more macro level later on in my life.
Date of meeting: 3/16/2018
I had a midterm right before so I got to the class a little late but they had just started taking a test. I asked the teacher if it was okay for me to help CD take the test and she said it was fine. We worked through all the problems in the same style that we have been, where I give him very generous hints on how to go about things. I honestly can’t tell how much he is really absorbing but he might possibly have a better grasp on the algebra related to geometry at this point. The problem with testing his understanding is that it seems like he would rather just blankly stare at the problems than actually attempt them himself, so my being there might be the only reason he’s actually doing work at all. For example, one thing he knows for sure is that “bisects” means “cuts in half” but he can’t apply that concept to the geometry by himself.
Also at one point very early on, the boy who had called CD “mentally retarded” last week made his way to our group of tables, but the teacher quickly noticed this and told him he couldn’t sit there; so clearly, having the actual teacher present instead of a substitute is cause for generally better behavior from the class.
After we got through all the problems and I checked it a few times to make sure he would get 100%, there were still 20 minutes remaining in the period so I asked CD if he had any more work and told him that he should utilize me for help while I was there. Even after some light prodding, he continued to deny having any more work so I decided that I might as well have a conversation with him. First, I mentioned that it was quite a coincidence that he and I had an exam on the same day. I then attempted to explain to him the concept of exams being graded on a curve, but he didn’t seem interested, but brought up how his older brother had that sort of thing when he went to college. I asked him what his brother did and he said that his brother had recently joined the army. When I asked if he knew why his brother would join the army, he said it was to escape from their mother who he had lived with while commuting to college. He assured me that since his brother was simply living and working on an army base, his brother was not in active combat or anything and was not at risk of being killed. I asked him if he would ever join the army and he said no because he doesn’t “believe” in that sort of stuff. I dug a little deeper but it fell off.
Next, I asked him what he is going to do after school today and he said he was going to play video games. I’m pretty knowledgeable on video games in general having played them my entire life, so this was a great in. I asked him why he enjoyed the specific games he played and he said he likes the “open world” and being able to “do whatever you want” so clearly he is using the games as some sort of escape. I recommended him some games he should check out and then mentioned that one could play games on computers at much higher qualities than on game consoles and explained (at a very high level) the computer hardware that made this possible and how it actually changed the game. He seemed interested so I also told him that I had built a computer at around his age and he commented about the initial investment being really high but it seemed like he was thinking about it. At this point class ended.
3/23/2018 Mentee was absent.
3/30/2018 School was closed.
4/6/2018 School was closed.
4/13/2018 Mentee was not at school.
4/20/2018 Mentee was not at school.
Date of meeting: 4/27/2018
We started out doing a warmup which was half similar triangles and half Pythagorean theorem. CD seemed super disinterested during the warmup and we couldn’t finish before the newly hired math teacher who was sitting in on class went over the problems, so I just told him to listen to the explanations.
For the rest of the time (1 hour-ish), we worked on a worksheet that consisted of maybe 15 Pythagorean theorem problems where you had to solve for the missing side length of a right triangle. It started out really slow and I had to dictate the steps of the algebra required to solve for the missing side; but after a few of the problems he started seeing the patterns and was able to write out the initial equation out by himself with a few exponents missing here and there. I’d say for the best instance, he was able to do close to 70% of the problem by himself, which I was pretty glad to see. Also, during simple arithmetic calculations, I was able to finally confirm his ability to do long addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. So, I finally know that although CD continues to struggle with the more conceptual parts of algebra, he does have some foundation in its basic building blocks, so there’s no reason that more can’t be built on top.
There was nothing really special about the worksheet, just a bunch of Pythagorean theorem problems like I said, and the entire period was over pretty quickly.
May 4 – Mentor couldn’t be there.
May 11 – Mentor couldn’t be there.
Date of Meeting: 10/22/18
Colleen walked me to the class and introduced me to SD. Unfortunately it was pretty much the same as last year’s mentee, where Colleen reminded them that they had agreed to be part of this program and they only reluctantly agreed that they had. I don’t know if Colleen is lying to us about exactly how they accepted to part of Oakland Serves but I don’t think it was with the excitement that she mentioned during our meeting last week.
Also, there was a substitute for the teacher that day and SD and her friend got into a little verbal fight with another girl in the class and then immediately ran off. Luckily Colleen had approved our working in room 116 (the room we had the meeting in last week) and also okayed working outside (which SD said she liked to do) so I just figured she and her friend had gone outside. I got worksheets for the both of them from the sub and went outside to look for them. I found them pretty quickly and then handed them worksheets and asked them where they wanted to work. They mostly ignored me while ranting to each other about how close they were to physically fighting the other girl in class from earlier. At this point we were also joined by a boy.
After waiting for things to calm down and putting in small words about working on the worksheets here and there, the group finally decided that they wanted to sit down and they agreed to go to 116. Once there, SD intermittently worked on the first of two worksheets while they continued to talk about random things that came up including the girl who they refrained from fighting; at one point they started debating whether or not it was okay to ask a woman what her age was and asked for my input as well. Around this point was when SD finished the first worksheet so I asked her if she wanted me read the second one since she had continuously said how she hates reading. She quarter/half agreed so I decided to read it. She and her friend listened while I read it and SD closed her eyes at some point but I don’t think she was sleeping. Next we went over the questions and I pointed out corrections but she didn’t really seem to care about my explanations about why they were wrong.
However, at this point I was really glad she was listening and was definitely willing to (at least superficially) absorb my input. After we finished I told her that I could also help her with her other classes but she said some combination of being on top of them and not having the work on her right now; I will verify the “being on top of them” with Colleen next time. After this, SD went and sat with the boy we had met outside who I figure might be her boyfriend. The other girl (whose name I forget) started talking again and mentioned that they are cousins-in-law. And I learned that SD is a sophomore taking this freshman class, the other girl is a junior also taking the class, and the boy is a senior who was on his free period that apparently McClymonds has for seniors; during this free period, it is an open-campus for the seniors and they can leave the school.
At around 11:45 (the end of the period) we all walked back to the classroom, which was very close (111), and turned in the worksheets. Then I texted Colleen that it had gone pretty well all things considered (since I had thought I had lost her immediately), and left.
Date of Meeting: 10/29/18
Colleen was chaperoning a field trip today so I went to the class on my own for the first time. There was a substitute again today but according to the girls, the teacher is usually never absent. SD and her cousin, XXX (don’t know the spelling), seem to be really close and once I walked into the room they were both ready to go to a different room to work like we had done last time. So clearly they seem to be down to at least go to a different room to work and it also looks like I’ll be mentoring them as a pair (focusing on SD of course). The meeting room we worked in last week was occupied so we went to the college and career center instead.
This time the teacher had left a very thick packet for the students to work on. The packet required a textbook so I asked them if they had it and they both said no. I decided to go get textbooks from the classroom, but honestly that was a very sketchy move (they might have ditched me) and I’m glad I thought to ask the person at the desk overseeing the career center if they had any textbooks in the center itself. They happened to have exactly 3 biology textbooks.
Apparently, SD had done some the worksheets before so she took them out of her backpack and started copying. I decided to just let her; she had done those parts before and I didn’t think telling her not to copy such parts was worth the capital. At some point the other classes they were taking came up and SD mentioned that she was taking computer science. I’m a big supporter of going down the computer science path (even if you don’t like it) for the pot of gold at the end (especially with the current push for diversity in tech) so I decided to try to plant some of those seeds in her head. I asked her if computer science was easier on her since she had said before that she hated reading off paper and preferred a screen. I think she said something along the lines of she just happened to be taking computer science and wasn’t necessarily interested. I replied straight up telling her that it would be great if she got into computer science because she could make a lot of money in the future. I’m not sure how much of it held but I definitely want to keep pushing her on this because convincing her of such a thing would undoubtedly drastically increase the quality of her life. Also at some point during this, she said she is going to go to college.
We worked through the worksheets after SD had exhausted the parts that she could copy off of her old work. The topic of reading off paper came up again and she said that sometimes after she is reading for a while, the words become blurry. I asked her if the letters started moving around like I imagine it would with dyslexia. She said she didn’t have dyslexia because she’s friends with someone who does and she told me how she had to help him spell “California” the other day. I told her she should get the blurriness issue checked out by a doctor and how it might help her be able to read a lot easier. She suggested that she might just need glasses so I asked when she had last seen an optometrist and whether she had access to one. She replied no to both. I asked if her mom could bring her to one and she said that she would tell her mom to. So that was a big win in my opinion; not having glasses when you need them can definitely cause physical pain after reading for so long. I’ll follow up about it next week.
Finally, both girls were pretty constantly saying how hungry they were throughout the period. I vaguely remembering someone talking about refraining from bringing mentees “gifts” because they might become abusive and start to expect them. However, these girls seem really sweet and frankly I believe the capital gain will be well worth it and I don’t mind. I told SD I would bring something from Trader Joe’s (which I live above) next week.
Towards the end of the period, SD asked me if I would coming throughout the year. I’m hoping she was asking in a “cool, this person will stick with me” and not a “damn, I have to deal with this person” sort of way. But regardless, overall, I think this meeting went really, really well and SD has definitely shown a lot of willingness to open up to me.
Date of Meeting: 11/5/18
Today was the first day that I was able to meet the teacher and it also happened to be a lab day. Initially, SD and XXX (pretty sure about the spelling now) did not want to stay in the lab room because it smelled bad but I got them back into the room somehow. The experiment was to test whether 3 different solutions were hypotonic, hypertonic, or isotonic based on the change of weight of an egg sitting in the solutions for two 15 minute periods. It took a while for the group to get settled and actually start the experiment (SD and XXX worked with another small group) but we were able to get all the necessary data points onto the handout.
Unfortunately, the handout was long and difficult and the teacher ended up putting 12 additional questions on the board for the students to finish by the end of the period. By the way I saw it, it would be literally impossible to finish everything unless one had actually started working promptly after she said to begin; maybe this is just the teacher’s strategy. SD and I were able to finish most of the worksheet and 5 of the questions which was definitely much better than the average student in class who was openly and loudly complaining about all the work the teacher decided to pile on towards the end of the class.
When the teacher initially started writing the questions on the board, SD asked me if I could write them down for her because she couldn’t see them without squinting. After asking if she had been able to see an optometrist she said yes and that she was going to get glasses in 2 weeks (great!). Overall, this meeting was not very eventful as we just had to work through the lab worksheet and try to get as many questions done as possible. After the period ended, I gave SD and XXX the snacks I had brought them and let them know that I had brought double since there is no school next Monday and I wouldn’t be seeing them. They seemed to take it well and I’m pretty sure they know my name now.
Date of Meeting: 11/26/18
Today we were in the actual classroom for the first time. I decided to not pull SD out to work in a quiet room this time because I wanted to get a feel of the classroom. It was pretty much exactly the same as the geometry classroom I worked with Brandon in; the teacher gave very straightforward directions and was intermittently interrupted with a sly remark or just a plain complaint and then let the class do its own thing. Most of the students seemed to be messing around and today was a laptop work day so not actually doing any work was especially easy.
We worked on creating an annotated bibliography for their final project. SD seemed a lot less willing to work than during previous meetings and I imagine it’s because we stayed in the classroom where distractions are abundant and honestly very hard to ignore. We very slowly worked through 2 of the 3 annotations that we needed to get done with me explaining the required format required and sometimes having to actually show her how to do something on the computer, e.g. how to italicize.
I also asked her if she had gotten her glasses and she said her mom still hadn’t taken her even though she had said she would in a couple weeks a few weeks ago. I am going to follow up with Colleen about making sure she goes to the optometrist soon since poor vision may very well be root of much of her academic hardship.
Date of Meeting: 12/3/18
We stayed in the classroom again today; however, I probably should have pulled SD out because she was super reluctant to work today and I imagine the environment had at least something to do with it. We slowly went over study materials before taking an assessment that she needed to score 8/10. Throughout the studying I asked her if she knew all the things we were going over (basic cell biology) and she assured me she did as she had both taken biology last year and they had gone over the info in class the week prior. It was immediately clear to me that she actually didn’t know anything, even the stuff we had gone over prior like the differences between eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. We got through the studying period and took the assessment (all on a laptop, by the way) and managed to get 8/10 on it with a lot of direction and talking through it. She was definitely picking up what I was saying but she had not absorbed all the text and concepts we had spent the last 30 minutes reading through.
I asked her about glasses again (Colleen has been made aware of her need for them) and she has still not gone to an optometrist. She also said that she “doesn’t want to wear that shit.” So apparently her view on glasses has changed to simply not wanting to face the stigma of wearing glasses. I told her she can wear contacts instead but she wasn’t down for that either so I’m hoping that Colleen can assist in this situation.
Date of Meeting: 1/14/19
Shortly after class started, the girl SD is closest to (in this class at least), XXX (unsure about spelling) got into a verbal battle with another girl. It slowly moved out of the classroom as they both suggested that they were down to fight each other. SD followed. I later learned from SD that she went simply to calm her friend down, but upon re-entering the room, the teacher, probably knowing how close she is to XXX, already saw SD as an accomplice and told her to get out. SD repeatedly responded with “please, stop talking to me” while the teacher continued to tell her to get out of the room. After a bit of this, SD exploded at the teacher, calling her a “bitch” and telling her to “take her wig off” among other things. I just watched in awe since I honestly had no idea what to do. SD stormed out of the room and I decided to just let Colleen know what had happened and give her some time before going after her.
The teacher suggested I stay and help the other students since SD was seemed to not be in a mood to work so I agreed to help some other students while I waited for Colleen to hopefully locate SD. Colleen texted me around 30 minutes later with SD’s location. I left 15 minutes afterwards, after I had finished up helping another student with their assignment.
I met up with SD and XXX at the Restorative Justice Officer’s (I believe that’s what he is called) office. I first asked them if they wanted to do some work, to which they replied that they had no work, which was a typical response. I then, reluctantly gave SD the snacks I had brought for her even though no work was going to done today; I figured there was no harm gaining some more capital with food. Then, I decided to ask them about the eruption that had happened earlier. SD then told me that she had gone to the hospital last week because of a panic attack that had made it difficult for her to breathe. And because of this, her fuse was especially short and her behavior toward the teacher came as no surprise. Apparently, the teacher also knew that SD had just been in the hospital so the teacher’s behavior toward SD (to set her off) was also kind of inappropriate. I pointed out the lack of communication here and SD decided (on her own) to go apologize to the teacher.
I asked her what causes the panic attacks and she said she knew but it wasn’t something that she just told people. I said that I understood but was just wondering if there was a general condition like anxiety. She said yes, it was precisely anxiety. I asked her if she had talked to a doctor about this and she said no. I brought up glasses again and apparently she got the wrong prescription, which contradicts what she had told me before about not wanting them at all so I guess that’s nice. I asked about how she was doing in her other classes and she said that they were fine. I pushed a little more to understand how she is actually doing and apparently she manages to get C’s in all her other classes. When I said something like “but you want to do better than C’s, don’t you”, she somewhat apprehensively agreed. So she does realize that C’s aren’t the best grades and that she can improve, I just need to figure out how to get her care about her work since she doesn’t really seem to do that at all.
I left when the period ended after meeting the Restorative Justice Officer, whose name I forget but he was really nice and understanding of SD’s situation.
Date of Meeting: 1/28/19
The meeting started out slow as usual. The teacher directed the class to read and annotate a reading about the lead poisoning in the tap water in big cities across America. Some of the students around us seemed especially interested in this topic since leady water was something that McClymonds unfortunately also suffers from. SD did not seem interested at all, however, but I wasn’t surprised since she didn’t even reply to me when I greeted her. I told her we should do the reading together to get the free points but like usual, she expressed her difficulty reading in the (inexplicably) bustling classroom environment. I asked the teacher if I could take her to quieter place to work and she said it was fine but that they were going to use the class laptops in 15 minutes. I figured we might as well stay in order to be able to work on the laptops so I convinced her to start reading. She didn’t really annotate the reading at all but we did manage to finish the review questions at the end.
The time with the laptop went pretty much the same as in-class time with SD has always gone: consistently having to convince her that doing the work would help her reach her goal of getting better grades. This time, she also complained that she was hungry and unfortunately, I hadn’t brought her a snack like I usually did. So after this meeting, I have concluded that the combination of a quiet work place and food is probably the best way to get SD to both do work and feel compelled/ comfortable enough to open up to me about her issues with school, life, etc.
We slogged through the laptop work while a boy who had not gotten any points for his last assignment had a loud altercation with the teacher where he repeatedly used the “F” word. The teacher told him that she would not be talked to in that manner and told him to go to the restorative justice office. This prompted him to charge out of the room without a pass which then prompted the teacher to call the office to tell them he had left her class without permission. This confused the rest of the students in the class, who were (sadly) actively listening to this exchange, since she had just told him to leave. I heard the word “snitch” being thrown around by some of the students, including SD. Essentially this was just another example of the absurd regularity of this sort of thing happening in class for no discernible reason.
I had to leave a little early to get to class on time and I promised SD that I would bring her some snacks of her choice next time to help her work. While walking to the office to sign out, I, very fortunately, bumped into Colleen; she asked me how it was going with SD and I explained how we were able to get work done, albeit slowly, but the classroom environment was not conducive to meaningful learning (I cited the altercation highlighted above as evidence), especially to SD, who obviously had a much lower tolerance to such distractions. I also explained that I had decided to refrain from pulling SD out the class because the latter part of the class required use of the classroom computers. Colleen suggested that next time, I bring SD to her office, where she would not only have the necessary quiet environment to work, but also have access to the same laptops used in the classroom. I wholeheartedly accepted this suggestion and thanked her for providing such an option. Next time, I will coordinate with the teacher to get the instructions for the laptop work ahead of time so we can get the planned class work done in Colleen’s office.
Date of Meeting: 2/4/19
I texted Colleen to follow up with her offer to let SD and me work in her office during the period. She came to the classroom in person to let the teacher know of our plans and the teacher agreed. We stayed in the classroom for 10 minutes or so, so I could go through the laptop assignments with the teacher so I could figure out exactly what SD had to do in order to pass the class. So now I know exactly what needs to be done to allow SD to at least pass this class and it is absolutely doable by the end of the semester.
As expected, this meeting was a lot less eventful than recent meetings since we had a large quiet space to ourselves. This really helped SD focus and do the work that was required, taking notes on videos and powerpoint slides in preparation for a content assessment at the end. I was really glad that the only complaint that SD had during this meeting was that her hand hurt from writing so much.
Throughout the meeting she also told me that she used to be a straight A/B student in middle school and at her old high school, but something changed after coming to McClymonds. She expressed wanting to get back to that old performance and I agreed. She said the only classes that she is failing are biology and math. Apparently, she finishes her math classwork/homework packet in class and leaves it on her desk at the end of class but gets no credit because someone erases her name and puts their own on her packet (an interesting hypothesis). Since we are already addressing biology and have time for more, I told her to bring her math packet to me next week so we could go over it before turning it in directly to the teacher.
Overall, this was probably the most productive meeting I have had with SD thus far and I am looking forward to seeing some tangible improvement in her academic performance in the near future.
We ask all our mentors to submit a weekly mentoring report to track the progress of their mentee(s). Here are excerpts from a few of those reports.
All names have been anonymized and assigned to a number (i.e. Mentor #1) or random two letter initials.