Young Mentor Turned Friend

August is always a month of mixed emotions, with summer waning and routines resuming. This year, our typical August emotions may feel far more complex because of the pandemic—especially when it comes to reconnecting with colleagues and classmates we haven’t regularly seen in person for some time. 

Although many corporations are pushing off reopening their offices, most schools are attempting to get back to business as usual. While those K-12 years are important for learning, the friendships we make during those years often have a larger impact on one’s life. Eric Rossen of the National Association of School Psychologists is urging schools to place a priority on “relationships between administrators and staff, between staff and families, between teachers and students, students and peers, all those things.”

Many parents reached burnout during the pandemic months, having to guide their children through e-learning. They had to fill in gaps in concepts kids didn’t grasp online, as well as step in to provide emotional support and to supplement friendships. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, my son was fortunate enough to have one unique friendship that offered him real educational and emotional support.

This relationship started nearly four years ago, not long after my son tested into the advanced language arts program near the end of third grade. With this achievement came a great deal more homework, something my active social butterfly child was definitely not thrilled about. Before long, he was slipping behind in classwork, and his dad and I found ourselves in constant nagging mode. We tried different homework tracking tools and more structure to the day, but homework time continued to be a battle.

Until I found Charlie. Increasingly concerned about my son’s homework habits, I considered a tutor but realized it was motivation, not ability, that was holding him back. I thought of successful professionals in need of performance help who turn to executive coaches or mentors and decided to find the equivalent for my son. As he approached fourth grade, I posted an ad on a neighborhood online bulletin board looking for a middle school boy with an interest in sports, school and service. I quickly heard back from a handful of earnest parents.

It was Charlie’s mom I followed up with first, and the fit could not have been more perfect. Positioning this to my son wasn’t too difficult, as I had found a “homework helper” with similar interests and shared experiences he could hang out with. The boys met twice a week for an hour at the library after school, and in addition to a money earning opportunity for Charlie, he learned valuable mentoring skills. While I could have focused solely on Charlie’s academic credentials, from the start, I was hoping he and my son would bond in other ways. As the younger of two brothers, my son sees his older brother as a bossy know-it-all, not a role model. Complicating things further, his dad and I had recently separated and having some extra attention from a talented baseball player who’s also an accomplished Boy Scout could only help.

Now that Charlie is a junior in high school, time together is more limited. During the pandemic, the boys had to pivot to Zoom then masked meetups at the library. But their fondness for one another is genuine. My son’s study habits have undoubtedly improved, and when he’s ready to tour the high school as an eighth grader, he’ll be looking out for Charlie, and Charlie will be on the lookout for him. Pairing up with a mentor is often productive, and sometimes a resulting friendship is the icing on the cake.

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