By Sabrina Palacios
To this day, I can still remember my first experience with mentoring. I was in kindergarten, and just like all of the other kids, I was brimming with excitement to meet my new buddy. The moment all the “big kids” walked in was indescribable. I was overcome with joy, from having the opportunity to meet kids much older than me, but also still a bit fraught with shyness because, well, these kids were “big kids”! Once I got over that fact, I was able to really form a friendship with my new mentor. Every week she visited me, and over time she helped teach me the values of responsibility as well as staying dedicated to my schoolwork. Even now, I still use those lessons in my every day life, and I can easily say that a great part of that can be attributed to having such a positive role model in my life at such a developmental stage.
At its most basic level, mentoring helps because it guarantees a young person someone to look up to and learn from. A child is not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges. By participating in a mentoring program at Huntington, Bridge class students — those who are new to the country and sometimes to even a formal school system — now have the opportunity to feel included in their school community as well as be understood by their fellow classmates.
Our mentoring program, Bilingual Buddies, has become the key for gradually integrating these students in the most natural way possible, while also building their relationships with those around them. As for the mentors, we have equally benefited from the program because we are given the chance to learn about cultures and backgrounds contrasting to those that we have always known. Additionally, mentoring has given each individual a role in becoming strong role models, hence giving us a sense of responsibility and respectability that we must learn to uphold.
In its early stages, Bilingual Buddies has become a blossoming mentoring program. I, along with 24 of my peers, have helped take part in developing a partnership with the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School Bridge class with the goal to better acclimate the students to their new lives and future as students of Huntington.
The very first day we walked in to meet the kids was nothing short of delightful. Seeing each child’s face light up with happiness was quite honestly the most gratifying moment I’ve ever had both as an individual and a mentor. And I can undoubtedly say that my peers felt the same. Being a part of such a rewarding program has given us, and the students, the chance to create lasting, positive friendships. Even more so, it has given us the opportunity to be the true bridge between these new students and their community.
It can go without saying that while it is our job as mentors to leave an impact on the lives of these children, it is truly the children themselves who will impact us and our community. Hopefully we will be able to see more of this growth and positive change as the program develops from where it is today.
Sabrina Palacios is a rising senior at Huntington High School, and the founder and president of Bilingual Buddies.