University students, at-risk youth foster each other’s growth

By Min Cheong Kim, Staff writer

CU Succeed is an RSO comprised of University students who take on the role of mentors for other students as part of the Regional Alternative for Developing Youth Program. CU Succeed aims to integrate at-risk students into their school system and ensure they finish secondary education and provide exposure to opportunities in the community.

The READY Program is located on the third floor of Illinois Terminal and it is a place where students who cannot attend their public school to receive an education. It is an alternative school run by the Regional Office of Education for students in Ford and Champaign counties.

Social workers at the READY Program receive interviews from the mentors of CU Succeed and match them with a student at READY according to mutual interests and goals.

“I think it’s a really good experience to keep you in check as a college student and not forget that this is just a campus. There is still so much more we could do outside of campus,” said Jeremiah Jaimes, junior in LAS and co-director and connector liaison of CU Succeed.

Whether they’ve been expelled, in danger of being expelled, coming out of juvenile hall or experiencing school failure, if the students are deemed eligible for an alternative school, they are directed to READY.

The class sizes are small, around eight kids per class, and there are more services to help them in the most suitable way.

With smaller classes, the students can form relationships with the faculty. Everyone who works at READY knows the students by name, which helps the students get more individualized help and attention.

Mentors are also able to work more specifically with each student to support them and make sure they remain on track with their goals.

The goal of READY is to support the kids back into their schools. CU Succeed mentors work with the students in READY to provide them with academic and social support. The mentors have a meeting with the mentees once a week and hold biweekly mentor meetings to discuss each individual’s progress.

“We always tell our mentors to avoid having a savior complex,” Jaimes said. “They’re not there to show them the right way. They’re there to encourage them to find their way. We always foster that dynamic to not think of yourself as above them, but you’re both young and both trying to find your way through life, trying to establish your goals. So just foster that bond where both can learn from each other and learn from the experience.”

During the meetings, the mentor and mentee would play games to warm up to each other and then build a relationship to get to know each other’s worlds.

“It changed my perspective, too.” said Dana Joulani, senior in LAS and CU Succeed mentor. “When Deen shares what he wants to do in the future, it’s things I never thought about or things I never thought existed. We have two different worlds. It’s kind of fun to learn from each other.”

When signing up to be a mentor, Joulani had expected her mentee to be having problems with his surrounding relationships, not care about school, or possibly be violent.

However, she walked into the meetings with an open mind and saw that her mentee was on the right track. Her role was to give him a different perspective, to make him understand he had options and to motivate him.

“When you go and mentor, you get a cultural perspective of life and how these people think. It is interesting to compare and you get to learn, but you also get to inspire them,” Joulani said. “I always try to tell him: aim high, aim high, aim high.”

She serves as a living example of a hard worker to help with motivation. The relationship between Joulani and her mentee, Deen, is just one example of how this program has a positive impact on both parties.

“I feel like I’ve never been good with expressing my feelings, but Dana kind of showed me that,” Deen said.

Although each relationship with the mentor and mentee is unique, those who have participated have found the experience beneficial. The social workers at the school have seen the progress made in the mentees and acknowledge the importance for the mentees to develop a healthy relationship.

“Mentors are gardeners as opposed to construction workers,” said Greg Jahiel, social worker at READY. “With their consistent work they provide for the students, they’re planting seeds. We see students that were initially resistant, didn’t have a whole lot of interest in school and couldn’t see how school was relevant for them.”

Students are welcome to join at any time of the year due to the nature of the READY program and the flexibility of students leaving and coming in.

“While the CU Succeed members provide tutoring, more importantly, they get this social support and see that their education is important,” Jahiel said. “Through this relationship, they start to believe a little more in themselves and see how school fits into their life. Having this person show up week after week consistently gives them the message of, ‘You can do this’, ‘You’re worth it’ and ‘This is important,’ and gets them to engage a little bit more.”

CU Succeed is looking for students who can make the commitment and grow the RSO for the future. Jaimes is working to make the RSO more sustainable and make sure it can thrive even when he leaves the University.

“I think one of the biggest fallacies of college is that students get stuck in this campus bubble. They forget that there is real life outside of campus like you see in Champaign-Urbana,” Jaimes said. “Go outside of campus and help. There are still people in need that need resources.”

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