As discussed in the mentor training, we ask that you meet individually with your mentee at least once between every group meeting. If you did not set up a time to meet last night, please reach out to them and offer some possible times to meet before our T2 Retreat at Brandeis University. For this first meeting, it would be great to do something non-college application process-related in order to get to know each other better and to help start developing the working relationship between the two of you without any pressure. Do something fun together! And one thing to possibly have them start thinking about is what they are planning to do this summer.
It’s been a little over a year since I became a mentor at my kids’ high school program for First Generation to College called Transitioning Together (T2). I had requested an art student specifically looking for art school NOT an art program at a liberal arts program.
My middle daughter was a junior in high school at the time, so this would be her classmate and I didn’t think that I could handle a lot of college visits. I wrote on the application that I wanted to help a student interested in attending MassArt (Massachusetts College of Art and Design, the only public art school in the United States). I understood art school applications after watching my oldest go through this process.
But my oldest did the entire art school application on her own. I only had experience visiting art colleges with her.
At first there were no takers. Right before the program started, one signed up. I was assigned to this high school student and the program officially started in January 2019. It did not go well.
My student was the only one in the program to miss the kick-off meeting. She failed to notify anyone that she was sick. I scheduled a second meeting to give her the paperwork from that meeting. Again, we did not meet. The time that we set up conflicted with her class schedule so she skipped our meeting. Meanwhile, I was at school library fuming. Our third meeting was with an art teacher to go over her preliminary portfolio. My mentee was twenty minutes late. I was heading out the door when she finally showed up, breathless after having to run back to her house to get her art pieces because she forgot about our meeting.
When we revied her portfolio, it was clear that she had a long way to go. Her portfolio did not have any pieces remotely ready for art school. and she needed to work on her technical drawing skills. Because my mentee is learning English as a Second Language, she isn’t able to take art classes every day at school.
From this rocky beginning, I almost walked away. I did not think we were going to be successful. There wasn’t enough ramp time to overcome all these challenges. She needed to master the English language learn to draw at a high level, and produce a portfolio in less than year.
But then I got to know her. In China where she is from, there isn’t any support of art in the education system. Art is like religion there. It doesn’t really exist.
I gave her a few blank sketchbooks and urged her to make art every day. She signed up for an art class after school. We showed up the monthly meetings of our Transitioning Together program. She started texting me her art. I took her to visit a MassArt art professor’s show. And slowly, together, we started to make headway.
There were wobbles, of course. Like every junior in her class, she had a moment of panic where she worried that she would get rejected at every school she applied to. She wanted switch her focus to make up school and then cooking school. I gently rerouted her to our original plan. Instead of an expensive SAT class in China, she would attend the summer Pre-College Program at MassArt. I knew it would be a pivotal moment for her. Either she would love an intensive period of making art 24/7 or she would bow out. It turns out that it was her calling.
We worked together on her common application, her English language test requirements, her college list, and her portfolio. There were lots of texts late at night. She shared her art pieces with me and I was blown away by her creativity. I gave her my family pass to the Museum of Fine Arts when I realized that there are no art museums in China. My kids started referring to her as “my other daughter,” but they also celebrated her small milestones.
Today, I am happy to report that my mentee got accepted at MassArt as well as every other art school that she applied to. I’m so proud of how hard she has worked over the last year. She had always wanted to be a graphic designer but now she has the confidence to pursue it. There is now a quiet confidence and seriousness to her demeanor that replaces the immaturity that I saw last year.
This program also underscores that all kids have potential but they don’t all get the same opportunities. It’s not so much one big thing … these opportunities … but like in parenting, it’s the constant small things that guide a child down a pathy. Picking them up when they fall down. Rerouting them when they have lost their way. And being there at that exact moment of need.
My mentee still comes late to meetings, but now I know that she will be there. And now on to her last issue: which art school to choose?
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