ASU student grassroots efforts survive pandemic and lack funding to make a difference in the community
As a graduate student in political psychology at Arizona State University, Stephanie Cahill never envisioned a scenario in which she would seek to become a construction worker. But when a student at Gililland Middle School in Tempe, Ariz. Told her it was who he wanted to be someday, she went home that night and started digging (no pun intended ).
The following week, when they met again, she presented the student with a spreadsheet filled with resources and information on how to pursue a career in construction.
“We never have the same lesson plan,” Cahill said of the mentoring program she started in Gililland, which recruits students from ASU to mentor college students.
“The idea is to show these kids that they can go to college if they want to. Some don’t, which is why we also talk about career preparation. But we want them to start thinking about those big dreams they have and give them tools to start carving a path to get there. So we listen when they have questions, and if we don’t have the answers, we seek them out and go from there.
Inspired by a social justice course Cahill took in second year, the Grassroots Mentorship program is now in its sixth year and is currently welcoming ASU students to register as mentors.
Despite its informal nature – it is technically not an ASU-affiliated student club, despite being entirely composed and managed by ASU students – the mentoring program has gone through many challenges over the years. , including the pandemic and the obstacle it posed to take the virtual program, as well as the funding disruptions. Although the program twice won the Woodside Community Action Grant (offered by Changemaker Central to ASU), the rest of the time Cahill provided out-of-pocket funding for materials like binders, worksheets and paperwork. food, to help children stay focused.
“We realized that food was an important aspect of getting kids to participate because you can’t really focus when you’re hungry,” Cahill said.
In one of the years the program received funding from the Woodside Grant, they were able to provide enough snacks for the entire school (around 800 students) on standardized testing. Cahill said some of the teachers shared anecdotally that the students performed better than in previous years.
Every Tuesday of the academic year, ASU students visit Gililland, a Title I schoolTitle I schools are those in which children from low-income families represent at least 40% of enrollments. just down the road from Tempe campus, and for an hour after school, they share their knowledge, engage in activities, and answer any questions the kids have about college and career preparation .
“I grew up near Scottsdale, in an area that has significantly higher rated schools, and college has always been something we talked about as a possibility,” Cahill said. “As I got older, I realized that not everyone gets this message when they’re young, and it just felt unfair.”
Then, in high school, a serious athletic injury unexpectedly took Cahill out of the game, plunging her into an identity crisis that she said spoiled her usually sunny character. Eventually, she said, she decided to focus on what she could still do, rather than what she couldn’t, and giving back to her community was one of the first.
With this mindset guiding Cahill, the aforementioned social justice course served as a catalyst in the creation of the mentorship program in Gililland. Charged with undertaking a project that would solve an injustice for the betterment of her community, Cahill began by compiling a list of local low-income schools, intending to host a panel of students at a time to respond. to children’s questions about post-secondary education.
After her idea was rejected by five of the schools, Cahill found herself in the principal’s office in Gililland, waiting to make her pitch, when she heard something that caused her to rethink her approach.
“Some of the kids were talking about what they were struggling with in school and how they didn’t even know where to start, and I was like, ‘Hey, I think I know a way to fix this. “Cahill recalls.
Instead of a one-off panel that invited kids to ask questions about things they might never have even heard of, she thought, how about having regular meetings focused on the topic? ” relationship building, goal setting and giving kids the kind of information they needed based on what interested them – and so let them ask questions.
“(The administrators) were like, ‘It sounds perfect,'” Cahill said. Shortly after this meeting, she was referred to Scott Nasser, a seventh grade science teacher at Gililland who was in charge of after-school programming, to begin coordinating the mentoring program.
“A lot of the students in our school are not considering post-secondary education at all,” Nasser said. “Either they don’t think they can do it, or they don’t realize the opportunities available to them to help them do it. So the partnership with Stéphanie on this program was really meant to encourage them to start thinking about their future, to start to understand that they are able to go to an institute like ASU.
In addition to addressing the logistical issues of what it takes to go to college, Nasser said the mentoring program also goes a long way in building students’ self-confidence.
“A lot of it is about the social and emotional health of the students now,” he said. “There are a lot of activities where they can just talk about themselves and things they like or might want to do in the future. That’s what kids need: someone in that particular age group that a student is in, to be honest with them about life.
Corbin Cowan, a sophomore music education student at ASU, said getting to know Gililland’s children was his favorite part of his role as a mentor. During a session hosted on Zoom last year, he shared his own passion with students when he performed part of Jack Johnson’s song “Upside Down” for them.
“I volunteered to be part of the program because I wanted to gain more experience working with children since I am planning to become a teacher after I graduated, and I really think it was worth it,” said Cowan.
While he hopes to continue to mentor the program as an upper class student, the leadership may seem a little different. Cahill intends to attend law school and pursue a career in nonprofit law. So her current focus is on building a roster of mentors strong enough to keep the program strong – perhaps even strong enough to expand to other local schools – after she leaves. .
Cahill encourages all ASU students interested in participating in the mentoring program to contact her directly at [email protected] Learn more about the program by watching this YouTube video.
Top photo by FangXiaNuo / iStock