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What it Takes to Learn Your Way: Mentoring

Authored By: 
Anastasia Georgoulis, History Teacher

This post is part of a series inspired by Dream School: NYC, a SundanceTV docu-series co-executive produced by 50 Cent, Chuck D, and Jamie Oliver that follows 15 New York City teenagers who left high school and are now trying to get back on track to graduate. The Beekman School partnered with the show to help customize the learning experience for the students. Follow this blog to learn more and participate in the social media conversations using the hashtag #LearnYourWay

To the outside world, I am a history teacher, but I don't think that accurately describes me. I like to think of myself as a mentor who happens to teach history.  I don't just teach events, I educate individuals. I help them discover and understand the material taught in my classroom in a way that is personal to them.

The classroom is just one part of each student’s life and his/her school learning experience is heavily influenced by what is going on outside the classroom. Connecting those dots is vital to my success as a teacher.

“Dream School: NYC” is a great example of how important it is to make those connections for each student. While some of our experiences may be isolated to one particular environment, their impact is not compartmentalized in the same way. They affect and alter our overall outlook.

That is why, at Beekman, we created the Advisory Program—a way to have a faculty mentor for every student. Our message? “We are here for you.  You are an important part of this group. You belong here.”

Our science teacher Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez described the only other analogous experience she had before she came to Beekman: coaching a girls’ softball team. It was there, in the context of the team, that she could make the deep mentoring connection with her girls, as she calls them. This connection was much harder to replicate with students she only saw in the classroom. To this day, these are the kids from whom she gets wedding invitations and baby announcements.

At Beekman, that feeling of a small circle of devoted students is amplified throughout the whole school. It doesn't take a special group or club to create cohesion. Without the broad halls and empty spaces you find in larger schools, we have a cozy beehive of a school where we all see each other every day. Our students are surrounded by adult role models. And sometimes they don't even need us to give them advice. They just need us to be there. Maybe a student had a bad morning, or is struggling with a personal issue. "Kids walk in my door just because they need a private space. They don't need to talk to me. I just say, come in and cry if that's what you need. I don't have to say anything. I just have to be there," says Vanilla. Here at Beekman, we can be there.

To learn more about why and how we got involved in the "Dream School: NYC” project, check out our earlier post: Learn Your Way: What it Takes to Build a Dream School