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Menlo-Atherton High School students find value in non-parental mentors – and tell their stories to community

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on April 25, 2014

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By her own recounting, Menlo-Atherton High School senior Angelica Cervantes was drifting off course during her freshman year. “It seemed so fast-paced, and all I could think of was ‘what’s the point in trying,'” she recalled.  The result: a 1.6 GPA.

Her sophomore year was a bit better, but she knew she needed “something life changing.” She stumbled upon a pamphlet for the Computer Academy Program at M-A.

The Program was established at M-A in 1981 — the first in California, a model that has grown to over 500 Academies across the state today. “Our purpose is to develop students’ skills in emerging high-tech industries while emphasizing college-bound, standards-based curricula,” explained M-A teacher Chris Rubin, who heads the Program. “One of the particularly unique aspects of the program is our ability to function as a school within a school. As such, the Academy fosters a sense of community and seeks to function as an extended family which we believe greatly contributes to our students’ success — and a positive high school experience.”

Recalled Angelica: “I heard they had mentors. I knew I needed to give it shot.”

Angelica became part of the Academy her junior year and was paired with Linda Liebes, who’d been an Academy mentor for half a dozen years. “This kind of volunteer experience gets you out of your bubble,” said Linda. “We are all in some kind of bubble.

“Plus, I was working when my children were attendingM-A, so I couldn’t do this kind of thing. It’s been a great experience, and I’ve encouraged a lot of friends to participate. The majority have become devoted volunteers.”

As for Angelica, she’s headed to San Jose State in the fall, and even though “it doesn’t matter”, she’s shooting for a 4.0 her final semester.

Both student and mentor were interviewed for a video that will be shown on Thursday, May 1, at 7:00 pm as part of the M-A Parent Education Series. The topic is “Who’s in Your Teen’s Village?” Dr. Kent Pekel from Search Institute will talk to parents about the importance of non-parent adults in youth lives.

Angelica is one of nine students whom Charlene Margot, director of the  parent education series, tracked down. Each was ready to talk about their experience in building a  positive relationship with an adult who was not their parent.

“Research shows teens need to learn how to develop these relationships with non-parent adults to begin building their own village, to be successful in life,” said Elizabeth Schar, a representative of the Esther Ting Foundation which made a gift to help fund the video and program.  “A parent can be encouraging and supportive, but the kid really has to do it themselves. The students we interviewed shared that their mentors became key guides in their lives, each in different ways. The adults are teachers, coaches, trainers, but also include parents of friends as well as mentors in the Academy program like Linda.”

“Who’s in Your Teen’s Village” is a free event, open to the community, but registration — available online — is required.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor for the Academy Program, please contact Chris Rubin: crubin@seq.org

Photo by Irene Searles

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