Meet our newest Partner member: Project Coach

Quality-Based Membership (QBM) with MMP is a free, nationally studied process for Massachusetts youth mentoring programs to acknowledge and receive recognition for what they are doing well. Mentoring programs can pursue three different levels of Quality-Based Membership, and our highest level of membership is Partner Member. Guest author Kayleigh Colombero is the director of Project Coach, our newest Partner. To learn more visit http://projectcoach.smith.edu/

Although I have only been the director of Project Coach for six months, my seven years of various experiences with the program allows me a long view and plenty of evidence that mentoring works.

I first started with the program as an undergraduate student at Smith. I was mentoring and tutoring an 8th grade student from Chestnut Middle School, and in only a few weeks I was hooked.  I truly enjoyed talking with him about the Red Sox, Patriots, the difficulties of middle school life, navigating the systems in public education, and working through difficult family relationships. I saw that our relationship was helping him improve in school, connect with others, and grow into a healthy adolescent. I knew then that I wanted to spend my life providing this to teens.

After a few years of teaching, and working for Project Coach part-time, I became the director. My decision to leave teaching wasn't easy; I had connected deeply with students in Springfield. However, teaching wasn't allowing me to give each student a mentor, each student a person, each student a lifeline. Every day that I am working at Project Coach, I know that this year I will help connect 50 Springfield teens to caring, fun, motivating, and inspiring mentors. I will also help train those 50 teens to tutor, mentor and coach over 250 elementary students from the north end. This cycle of mentoring is part of what makes it unique, but also how our program gets results.

By providing each teenager in our program with a mentor (graduate students from Smith) and a personal academic coach (undergraduates at Smith) we are able to give a full court press sensation to mentoring. Teens meet with their mentor at least four times a week and with their academic coach twice a week. Our mentors take our teens to basketball games, cafes on weekends to do homework, NYC, nice dinners, museums, and to countless other fun, engaging and important events. This constant contact and care are what helped our teens average a 1.1 raise in GPA last year and what gave us 100% high school graduation for our seniors. On the Youth Experience Survey, our teens scored significantly better than the national average on their desire to stay in school, their ability to set goals, and their ability to focus their attention (among 60 other assets our teens scored better on). While we give our teens responsibility, excellent training, and college and career experiences, the mentoring is really where these improvements stem from.

While the hard data for how mentoring works in Project Coach is impressive, I find the personal stories more amazing. My favorite story to tell is the story of Loeb. As an 8th grade student at Chestnut, Loeb first came to Project Coach because his old gym teacher (a PC staff member) told him to. He really wasn’t so sure about anything other than how cool it would be to have a job coaching as an 8th grader. He was shy, more likely to follow than lead, and struggling academically. Over the course of six years in the program and countless hours of mentoring and training, Loeb has become a leader in the program: assertive, well-spoken, engaging, and motivated. During his time in the program he went from a 1.67 GPA to a 3.5, acquired multiple coaching certifications, spoke to the school committee about Project Coach, and entered college and completed his first semester successfully. He is living evidence that mentoring (and Project Coach) works.