A SisterMentors Report On Mentoring Girls Of Color

Does School Have Any Meaning In Our Lives? How Is School Relevant To Our Future?

Statistics show that children of color are dropping out of school at a rate of 30 to 60 percent depending on the geographic area. Studies have focused primarily on Blacks and Latinos with little or no studies on Asians or Asian Americans. A recent study by the American Association of University Women (“AAUW”) Educational Foundation shows dropout rates of 30 percent among Latinas in middle and high schools (Sàƒ­, Se Puede! Yes, We Can: Latinas in School, 2001). The prevailing notion is that girls drop out of school because of pregnancy, but some studies show that girls drop out first and get pregnant after.

At SisterMentors, we believe that women of color doctoral candidates are a powerful yet untapped source of knowledge, motivation, and inspiration for girls of color at risk of dropping out of school. These women are excellent role models for girls of color who look up to entertainers and athletes almost exclusively. Women of color doctoral candidates are very well positioned to convince girls of color about the value of education. Their stories and examples of having to persevere and sacrifice to attain the university’s highest degree have a powerful and positive impact on girls.

This is a description of one of our first mentoring sessions. The session was attended by 14 girls, ages twelve and thirteen, in the 6th and 7th grades. The girls did not hesitate to express their views forthrightly, asked lots of questions and responded thoughtfully to comments. Our discussion was lively, engaging, educational and a lot of fun.

We started our session in a circle holding hands and each girl and SisterMentors’ woman stepped into the circle to introduce herself by saying her name, her school and how she likes to spend her time. SisterMentors’ women explained what a doctorate is and how it will help them with their career goals. The circle is a powerful metaphor for connecting people, creating community, and for generating positive feelings and energy. While in the circle SisterMentors’ women explained that they valued helping reach other, respecting each other and that they believed that school is important to their future.

Our session was a typical SisterMentors introductory session that is based on the format of the television show, “Oprah.” We had two SisterMentors’ women and two girls on a panel as guest “experts” and the rest of the women and girls made up the audience. A SisterMentors’ woman served as host, posed the topics for discussion and the “experts” on the panel took the lead, with questions and comments from the audience.

The host set the tone for the discussion by noting that one of the many things everyone in the room had in common was that we are all in school. She informed the group that the discussion would center on what school is all about, whether it has any meaning in their lives and if it has any relevance to their future.

The first question to the panel was: “At what age did you begin school and how long have you been in school?” The two middle school girls replied that they started school in kindergarten at the age of five and have been in school for seven years. Some of the girls in the audience gasped when SisterMentors’ women said that they have been in school for about twenty years. One of the girls promptly asked in a very serious tone, “Don’t you guys ever get tired of doing homework?” It was clear, however, from the girls’ reaction that this was likely their first dialogue with anyone who had been in school for such a long time.

When discussing the issue of school dropout, about half of the girls said they knew relatives or friends who had dropped out of middle or high school. The reasons ranged from drug abuse to pregnancy and poverty. When one of the girls said that she believed that people who drop out of school have low self-esteem, another girl chimed in and said, “it is more complex than that.” She explained that she knew someone who dropped out of school because she had to learn English as a second language and found it very difficult and frustrating. This same girl later said that she would not drop out of school because she would not be able to help her own children with their homework when she got older and became a mother. Moreover, she continued, if she were to drop out, she could not persuade her children not to drop out, if they were to consider doing so, because they could say that they were simply following her example.

The second part of our session was based on improvisational skits produced and performed by the girls under the direction of a SisterMentors’ woman who was getting her doctorate in drama and directing. We ended by returning to the circle to reconnect and bring closure to the session. The girls said how much they enjoyed the time with us and invited us back. When asked what specifically she liked about our time together, one of the girls explained that she never gets a chance to talk to her mother about the issues we discussed.