Think middle school is too soon to prep for college? Think again. At Citizen Schools, we're working to close the opportunity gap by reaching students at the crucial time between 5th and 8th grade, providing academic support and real-world apprenticeships. That's why we recently helped bring together over sixty 8th graders for a networking event where they picked up practical tips and inspiration from working professionals. We followed along; here are three takeaways to help you mentor a young person.
Take risks Taking risks sounds like the obvious answer to getting out of your comfort zone. But the unknown can also be unnerving. The good news is that there are varying degrees of risk, and some low-risk chances can have a high reward. If you're shy, volunteering to answer a question and possibly having the wrong answer can feel like the end of the world. But diving in like that should be encouraged!
For another student, taking a risk may be signing up for a different class or sport. We all have our areas in which we excel more than others. Being flexible about trying new activities means that we can avoid tunnel vision and learn about new interests, and middle school is an especially great time to hone new skills as you consider the many potential opportunities and paths ahead.
Gain hands-on experience Academics aren't just intense study sessions at the library - they also include hands-on practice. For some students, academics include designing and coding a video game, and diversifying your academic portfolio can do a lot to impress college admissions staff. When college admissions are considering applications grades are only part of the equation. Proving you can think as well as do will give a certain edge over the competition.
This is why apprenticeships are key to Citizen Schools’ model to close the opportunity gap. By bringing in passionate professionals to teach practical applications of 21st century skills, not only do middle school students earn a marketable skill they may not have otherwise, but it will serve to expand their horizons. Even if students don’t become what they studied as a career down the line, they still opened doors to new professional horizons.
Ask Questions “Why is the sky blue?” “Why is ice cold?” “Why do tigers have stripes?” Anyone that has spent time with a young person knows that one of their favorite things to do is ask questions. Encourage students to keep curiosity alive by continuing to be inquisitive.
Great questions can include what you do for work, why you enjoy it, and what you wanted to be when you grew up. It’s ok to talk about both successes, and scenarios that offered lessons for improvement. The more students are exposed to different career profiles, the more they will feel comfortable stepping outside of their own comfort zones and shaping their own journey.
Modern life offers new challenges and stresses for young people, and mentor/mentoree relationships are powerful bridges between the professional world and our next great generation of thinkers, makers and doers. You can help start the conversation, and middle school is an especially good time to make that happen. And, it's a discussion that is relevant at any age! What advice would you share for someone starting out on this journey? Add your tips in the comments!