Yesterday, throughout the country, President Barack Obama addressed students on their first day of school. You can watch his address here or read the transcript of the address here. Since I'm one of those visual learners, I needed to digest what the president said and then read the transcript in order for me to be able to fully take in everything the President said yesterday. No matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, I'm sure everybody found something they could take from the speech.
Since I view the world in the tutoring and mentoring perspective after having worked at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection for a little over two years now, I'll just comment on a couple of things that struck me after watching the speech yesterday, digesting it, and then reading the transcript today.
At the beginning of his speech, President Obama says:
"I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself. Every single one of you has something that you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide."
This is one of the main tenants of tutoring and mentoring - that every child has the potential for greatness, no matter what the circumstances they grew up in. However, some of these kids need a little help along to discovering what they have to offer, especially if they have no support at home. This is where tutors and mentors come in.
President Obama goes on to say:
"And no matter what you want to do with your life, I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You're going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You cannot drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to train for it and work for it and learn for it."
One of the main ways to prevent dropping out of school is for students to enroll in an afterschool tutoring and mentoring program. With someone who ha their back and who won't give up on them, these at-risk students are less likely to give up on themselves and drop out of school.
Also, in regards to preparing for a career - Many tutoring and mentoring progams offer career training such as on how to write a good resume or how to dress for success at a job. Some tutoring and mentoring programs even offer job shadowing or internship programs at a variety of professions. When students learn what it takes to get the job of their dreams, they are also less likely to drop out of school.
An especially central part of Obama's speech was where he talks about his own story, growing up with no dad and not having a lot of money. This is something that a lot of kids that tutoring and mentoring programs can relate to. He says:
"Now, I know it's not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork. . .
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don't have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job and there's not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don't feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren't right."
These are all circumstances that many of our kids face everyday. Obama talks about how he succeeded despite difficult circumstances, as did the First Lady. He also highlights three students who have also succeeded despite difficult circumstances, including Shantell Steve, a young woman who has grown up in foster care on the South Side and who has succeeded acedmically and has become a leader in her community. What Obama doesn't say is that I'm almost positive that he, Mrs. Obama, and the three outstanding young people that he talked about all had mentors in their lives who encouraged them when they were about to give up and who helped them realize that they could be even better than they thought they could be.
That's what tutors and mentors are here for - to help young people who wouldn't have the support, guidance, and belief in them otherwise. Students working hard and striving to succeed are one part of the equation. The other part of the equation are caring adults who can help these young people become contributing members of society.
Unfortunately, many of these programs where students meet these tutors and mentors are being cut due to the economy. This is a shame and you should do everything you can to support your local tutoring and mentoring program. If you want to help tutoring and mentoring programs throughout Chicago continue to succeed in this rough economy, I encourage you to do two things:
1) Volunteer - the role you may play in the program may be an even bigger role than just a one-on-one tutor/mentor. You have the potential to impact a large number of people with doing whatever you can with your time in helping these programs.
2) Donate - your dollars will come back to you better used than you can imagine. With the money you donate, programs can retain staff, help kids get into college, and help them into adulthood with the continued support these programs can offer.
If you would like to volunteer or donate visit the Cabrini Connections or the Tutor/Mentor Connection websites to find out more. Also, you can quickly donate by clicking the PayPal icon in the upper right-hand corner of this blog. We need your help now more than ever. But the payoff will be sure in the future.