Yoda and Luke Skywalker. Dumbledore and Harry Potter. Socrates and Plato. We’re all familiar with famous mentors and their protégés, both real and fictional. But what does mentoring look like to an everyday teenager?
Mentoring at Oakcrest is an opportunity for each student to converse about her life with someone she trusts—from struggles to personal goals to friendships and everything in between. It’s a way for her to reflect on her own growth with the guidance of someone who has a few more years and a little more wisdom under her belt.
We believe this mentoring relationship is crucial to helping middle and high school girls learn about themselves, grow in confidence, and strive for virtue. Because of this, mentoring forms the cornerstone of an Oakcrest education.
During monthly one-on-one meetings, the Oakcrest student and her mentor discuss what’s happening in her life and ways she can grow and improve. Many schools offer group advising, but our mentoring program is unique because it focuses on an individual, highly personalized experience with each student.
Our mentoring program rests on two core principles. First, we want to help our students grow in self-knowledge and encourage them to embrace both their strengths and struggles. The best way they can do this is by trying every day, patiently and persistently, to grow virtue. By constantly working on themselves, they are equipped to serve others and make the world around them a better place.
Second, we believe that all of us—young or old—need figures in our lives to keep us accountable and guide us as we work towards our full potential. Kate Hadley, Director of Mentoring and Parent Support, explains that mentoring helps with “learning that you will always need people in your life to mentor you, in every different facet of your life. And to not be afraid to go for help. Even as you grow into an adult, you have mentors who help you financially, you have mentors who help you spiritually, you have mentors who help you learn how to parent. This is a concept that’s an underlying principle of our mentoring program.”
At Oakcrest, 85% of female faculty and staff serve as mentors. In the words of teacher and mentor Elizabeth Black, “The mentor is a woman who accompanies the student as she matures into a young woman, listening, giving advice as needed, and in general being another adult who has a fresh perspective for the student.”
Deep trust and respect form the heart of each student-mentor relationship. Students appreciate that mentors not only give advice and insight, but also take the time to thoughtfully listen to what they have to say. Student Elizabeth Wells (‘19) notes, “My
favorite thing about my mentor is that she treats me as an adult. Of course, there still exists the line that separates a teacher from a student, but when I talk to her, she speaks to me as an adult and recognizes that my problems require adult solutions.”
Oakcrest teacher and mentor Monica Pompei explains, “A mentor is not a counselor or a psychologist, but rather one who listens to the mentee’s concerns and coaches the mentee to reflect and ask herself questions that help her know herself better. She helps encourage truthfulness about oneself without judging the mentee.” Many faculty and staff also support their mentees outside of official mentoring sessions—they’ll stop by a student’s sports game, attend a ballet she’s dancing in, or simply pause and chat with her in the hallway between classes.
Mentors are crucial not just for a young woman’s character formation, but also her career aspirations. Writing in Fortune magazine, business leader Erin Ganju discusses how she wishes she’d had a female mentor at the beginning of her professional life. All too often, she notes, these types of mentors are lacking, especially in fields traditionally dominated by men. She notes, “That’s why it is essential for female leaders to offer guidance to promising young women and girls on paths that traditionally have been closed to them. They can act as role models and encourage their mentees to take the next step, to reach for higher goals, and push them to lean in.” Oakcrest mentors strive to help our girls discover and fearlessly pursue their ambitions.
As in everything else that we do, parent partnership plays an important part in mentoring. The mentor serves as an essential link between parents and school. Students are encouraged to discuss with their parents the goals that they have developed with their mentor. Parents and mentors are in contact throughout the year and parents can reach out to their daughter’s mentor at any time. One Oakcrest parent says, “My husband and I see mentoring as one of the great benefits of an Oakcrest education… Our daughters’ mentors have helped them recognize the areas in which they need to grow, but also celebrated the wonderful things that are going on in their lives. We've all heard the saying that ‘it takes a village’ and my husband and I really feel that Oakcrest and the mentors in particular are a crucial part of that ‘village.’"
Mentors love the chance they get to have a personal relationship with each of their mentees. They care about not only the girl’s academic growth, but also her social, physical, character and spiritual development—at Oakcrest, she is truly known and valued as a whole person.
Erin Ganju, “What Star Wars Can Teach You About the Importance of Mentorship,” Fortune, June 17, 2015, http:// fortune.com/2015/06/17/erin-ganju-female-mentors/.