January 6, 2022 by HCDE-Texas
The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) shares that 1 in 3 young people in America is growing up without a mentor outside their family. It also finds that mentoring has tangible effects. With a mentor, young people are 52% less likely to skip a day of school, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities, and 130% more likely to hold a leadership position in a club or sports team. The natural conclusion is that by connecting young people with caring adults, #MentoringAmplifies positive youth development.
Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Afterschool, Summer, and Enrichment (CASE for Kids) Program Coordinator and Texas ACE 21st Century Site Coordinator Kenielle Williams has come full circle in her mentoring journey. She shares that the caring adults from her young life and her personal desire to see others succeed from a young age led her to helping students find academic and personal success today.
Tell me about your role as a program coordinator.
KW: “I am a certified educator in [English Language Arts], the science of teaching reading, for grades 4-8, so I’m very experienced when it comes to middle school. I’m a site coordinator at Humble Middle School right now. I have my bachelor’s and associate’s degrees, so I know the thick and thin when it comes to fun activities, but also curriculums that better promote their learning. I was briefly a youth counselor at the Houstonian Club and a teacher’s assistant, so I think that’s a big plus in [this role]. It’s a learning experience, but I like getting my students and parents engaged, knowing the content and what I want them to learn, and also have[ing] fun.”
Why did you choose a career in education?
KW: “I chose education because I always wanted to be a teacher when I was young. I don’t know why. I just always felt I was [meant to be] a teacher, educator, or something related to helping students. A lot of that [is the result of] the fact that I really enjoyed the teachers I had when I was young. I didn’t go to the best schools, but I had a close bond with the teachers because they wanted to see me [succeed]. I also wanted to see others be successful, so I think that was a very big motivation for why I stuck to education.”
Tell me about one of your mentors and how they impacted you.
KW: “There were a few in middle school. My professor at the University of Houston [was someone] who I could talk even outside the program [about] any problems that I had or anything I might have needed. I loved that. That’s what I try to be for my students as well as the parents. The parents will call me with problems they’re having outside of the program. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t always help them with, but I notice that I must have formed a good bond with them for them to be able to call me after we close. I can definitely say that that professor who treated me that way influenced my behavior now.”
Describe one way you’ve impacted a student.
KW: “One of my students always stressed that she didn’t have any friends. When I first got here in mid-October—I came pretty late—I used to always see her kind of sit by herself and not really engage with anybody. I can say with my program, she’s picked it up a lot. That’s the real point of the program. We really do help them emotionally, physically, socially as well. I’m making her form these bonds and helping her be more sociable with her classmates. Instead of sitting alone, now I see her talking with kids. She talks to me more now and comes to give me handshakes and says, “Hey, Ms. Williams.” I can see the impact for sure when it comes to social-emotional development.”
What does being a mentor mean to you?
KW: “Being a mentor—to me—means someone that wants to help, assist, and support. [For] a lot of people, we don’t know what’s going on at home. I can say that for some of my students. I can tell they need that close bond with others besides those at home. There are a lot of stories I’ve heard from which I can tell they’ve formed this relationship with me and would like to keep it because they’ve had some hardships or at school, or they’ve had a hard time talking to people or forming friendships. They look at my program [and see] a person to help them with that. It’s influence, guidance, and direction that we can give to our students. I want them to know that I can organize studies for them or give them advice, [but] it’s not always going to be related to school. It’s not always going to be related to my program. Many students come to me with personal issues, [and] I don’t mind helping them with that because that’s what they need—personal growth.”
To make a difference in young lives by leading students in out-of-school time learning and enrichment opportunities, become a CASE for Kids afterschool program specialist. Learn about the requirements and apply at hcdetexas.tedk12.com/hire/ today.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.