InvestinYOUth offers Mason students chance to mentor high schoolers
BY CAROLA PATTY GORENA MORALES
Beginning in the last week of April, Mason students will visit Mountain View Alternative High School in Centreville, Virginia, for a weekly after-school mentorship program that will provide high school students with academic support and exposure to postsecondary opportunities.
Sophomore Donna Imadi, education policy chair of Roosevelt @ Mason, spearheaded the creation of this project, InvestinYOUth Mentorship Program, in partnership with Roosevelt @ Mason, UNICEF Campus Initiative, Apple Federal Credit Union and Fairfax County Public Schools.
According to Imadi, the program will have InvestinYOUth mentors work with school staff to encourage higher graduation rates for high school students. The program aims to do this by encouraging better opportunities for students through tutoring and developing meaningful relationships through mentoring.
“A lot of students might feel like they don’t have good role models,” Imadi said. “Having students who are already within the university system and having those kinds of relationships be built — it’s something that could be inspirational for people who might think the road ends at high school or might drop out because they don’t see themselves as being able to navigate a system they are not familiar with.”
Imadi first envisioned a program like this as a high school senior at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Virginia, where she started to research the demographic changes occurring in Fairfax County. She saw many lower-income and limited English-proficient students moving in but believed that there were not enough social support programs to ensure her peers’ success.
“Graduation rates are falling, and the amount of childhood poverty has increased by 27 percent in the last five years in Fairfax County,” Imadi said. “There’s this huge problem where we’re one of the best counties in the nation, but if we don’t maintain that standard, it’s not going to be there forever.”
When Imadi entered Mason, she presented a proposal for a community-based mentoring program to the Fairfax County Public School Board and superintendent. But it wasn’t until she joined Roosevelt @ Mason that she found a proper outlet to help this idea grow. Through Roosevelt @ Mason — a student-led think tank that engages students at Mason in policy writing, advocacy and issue awareness campaigns — Imadi attended the Virginia General Assembly in 2016 to advocate for the creation of social-support programs administered through public university institutions.
She said she wanted to see pre-existing resources in academia used to support the achievement and social well-being of students in public schools.
“There’s a lot of people-power in university institutions. There’s a lot of resources we can use,” Imadi said. “As a student at Mason, whatever you want to change in your community, you have the power and capability to do so if you just go after the resources that are already available.”
Working with Roosevelt @ Mason also allowed Imadi to establish the mentoring program with the local public schools. Roosevelt @ Mason is housed under the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a non-profit organization with a 501(c)(3) standing, through which the formal partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools was established to enable InvestinYOUth.
“We’re a national organization, but our work is driven by our chapters and their interest, so Donna and the team at Mason have a lot of autonomy and they are able to work on the issues that they care most about,” Joelle Gamble, the national director of the Roosevelt Institute’s national network, said.
“This project is an important way for students at George Mason to be deeply involved with the local schools, and that in turn will make them more effective advocates for policy change,” Gamble said.
Imadi said she also wanted a program that supported public schools but was funded independently through the investment of local companies. She proposed this idea to Apple Federal Credit Union and received a grant for $4,283. This grant will be used for the program’s supplies and food, as well as transportation to an end-of-program excursion to UNICEF Headquarters in D.C.
While the InvestinYOUth Mentorship Program is not administered through any university office, Imadi hopes that the InvestinYOUth Mentorship Program will collaborate with existing Mason organizations and offices such Mason U and The Early Identification Program, both of which work to increase students’ access to higher education.
Finding organizations and resources that could support this initiative while making sure that it remains a unique program is what freshman Blair Schaefer is working on as the program’s curriculum solidifies.
As outreach coordinator of InvestinYOUth, Schaefer said that “there is a bit of a difficulty in making sure that there isn’t an overlap and we’re not stepping on anyone’s toes, but also we’re making this program for a reason.”
She added that she wants to see this program be distinct in the way it creates sustainable relationships between mentors and students.
In its initial stage, the program will have weekly meetings that connect 10 mentors with 10 students in their sophomore and junior years of high school to provide individualized support and a curriculum that is developed around their interests.
“We focus a lot on the teacher and the classroom, but what’s happening outside of the classroom is just as important, if not more important, in terms of the development of your character or the student’s life,” Imadi said.
While InvestinYOUth will mentor only at Mountain View Alternative High School this semester, Imadi hopes to see the program expand to schools across Fairfax County.
“It’s going to be something that Mason is going to start in terms of emphasizing outreach within your own community, taking some kind of responsibility for the location and the environment that you’re in and using your resources to help your local communities in what they might be lacking,” Imadi said.