Winter Kick-Off: A Match Made in Denver

March 1st, 2017

Denver Urban Scholars combines mentoring with social, emotional, and academic support to ensure a life of choice and opportunity for every scholar. Pairing each scholar with a one-on-one mentor is an important step in our process, and one that deserves a high level of care and attention. Students in 6th grade participate in group mentoring, students from 7th grade through high school are paired with one-on-one mentors, and our post-secondary students participate in peer mentoring.

Twice per year, Denver Urban Scholars hosts a Kick-Off event where students are introduced to the volunteers who will serve as their mentors for the next year. Students typically wait from a few weeks to 6 months to be paired with a mentor, and the matches typically last 1-3 years. Some of our mentor/mentee matches have lasted longer than 3 years, with friendships that endure even beyond enrollment with Denver Urban Scholars.

Kick-Off is an 8-hour day full of trainings and activities designed to prepare both students and mentors for the relationships ahead. For students and mentors, Kick-Off day is a blend of anticipation and excitement. For most participants, this is the first time they are being paired in a mentoring match. This month at Winter Kick-Off we will match a total of 22 mentors and students.

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For the first half of the day, students and mentors are in separate rooms to learn about and discuss things like effective communication, active listening, program rules, and expectations. Mentors are given specific tools and tips to initiate relationships with students, while students are encouraged to find ways to step out of their comfort zones. Separating the groups at first allows them to feel comfortable with their peers and to ask questions openly, such as: What will it be like to work with a complete stranger? What do I do if they don’t like me? How can we bridge a generational gap to find common discussion topics?

Mid-day participants break for lunch, and students and mentors have their first opportunity to interact.  Each year everyone is a bit nervous at first, but the room soon comes alive with conversation and laughter.

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In the afternoon, the mentors and students remain together for a variety of activities and games that help facilitate interaction with one another. Mingle games,  discussion inspired by The Karate Kid, and even a “flight path” obstacle course are all on the agenda as students and mentors make connections and begin to build the foundations of their relationships. One of the most important activities is the interview line, a sort of “speed-meeting” activity where each student gets a few minutes to speak with each mentor individually. This activity tends to be a good indicator of a good match.

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At the end of the day, students and mentors each provide staff members with a list of their top three match preferences, and some reflections on the day.

Over the following week, Denver Urban Scholars staff aggregates all of the information and carefully assigns each student and mentor pair for the year.  Quite often students and mentors have chosen each other mutually, and the matching process is made simpler.

Match Night typically occurs one or two weeks after Kick-Off.  During the matching process, students and mentors are once again separated into different rooms. Any final concerns are addressed and students then wait in a line blindfolded while the new mentors quietly line up behind their students. When signaled by a tap on the shoulder, students turn around and remove their blindfolds to see who they have been matched with. This moment marks the beginning of a new relationship. The new pairs spend some time chatting about how they might like to spend their initial time together, and the student identifies some personal or academic goals for the year. At the end of the event, to seal the new relationship and demonstrate mutual trust, mentors drive their students home for the first time and are encouraged to meet their student’s family to discuss the new relationship.

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