January is National Mentoring Month, and we are taking a moment to spotlight an incredible Ed Fund volunteer, Margaret Curtis, who volunteers through the Ed Fund as a mentor at Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School.
Margaret has been volunteering with the Ed Fund since the 2022-23 school year. Margaret began mentoring a TK student last year, helping him to learn English. This year, Margaret continues to mentor him in Kindergarten and has also begun mentoring a fifth grader at the school.
Mentoring is an important component of positive youth development, promoting academic success, engagement in extracurriculars, and connections to new opportunities. According to research from MENTOR California, mentored youth are 55% more likely to enroll in college. Additionally, students in consistent mentoring relationships have been shown to be less likely to begin using drugs or alcohol, less likely to engage in violence, and more likely to attend school.
Read on for our interview with Margaret.
Ed Fund (SFEF): Can you tell us a bit about your story, including how your personal journey led to volunteering with the Ed Fund as a mentor?
Margaret Curtis (MC): I am a retired civil engineering business owner, and one of my memorable challenges years ago was teaching “business” to a third-grade class for one hour! It was harder than my profession. Teachers deserve so much respect for the work that they do with all our children; I can’t say enough good things about them and the dedicated school staff. By being present in the school a few hours per week, I am privileged to build relationships with so many people. It is good to be there and be a small part of something so essential and rewarding.
SFEF: What motivates you to succeed as a mentor?
MC: I have always been a vocal advocate for public education, because learning in the company of people who are not just like you is essential to democracy and a peaceful society. I moved to San Francisco in 2022 to be close to my young granddaughter. I saw the public elementary school two blocks from my apartment and thought it would be good to learn more and get involved if I could be useful. My first intention was to volunteer at Cobb Elementary to help with office tasks and generally be around a public school. I especially like the history and antiracist tenets of this school. Soon, I also trained and became a mentor for a TK child who had recently immigrated to the US and wanted to learn English. This year, I am still mentoring that (now) kindergartener, and a 5th grader at the same school.
SFEF: What have you learned about yourself through your experience mentoring? What have you learned from your mentee?
MC: From my two mentees, I am learning to be a better listener and not make assumptions. Embarrassingly, I tend to think I know a lot based on articles I may have read about this or that. My challenge is to offer useful perspectives without weighing these children down with decades of my life experience! As we all observe, things around us are evolving at the speed of light. I hope I can be useful to the kids and their families as evolution proceeds.
My 5th grade mentee is a delightful child who is very curious, kind, and emotionally intelligent beyond her years. We are still getting to know each other, and we mostly just talk somewhere in the school building for our weekly visits. There is no dead air! I have truly learned more from her than vice versa so far in our relationship, and our 60-year age difference is not a problem. Yesterday we discovered our shared fondness for Bluey [an animation television series].
SFEF: How has your experience been helping your mentee learn English?
MC: Mentoring the kindergartener involves puzzles, games, indoor soccer, and conversational English as we do those activities. I try to use bigger words and more complex sentences as we go along, occasionally comparing the Spanish and English words for him. His English fluency continued to improve over the summer without me, and we were glad to see each other when the 2023-24 school year started.
SFEF: What feedback have you received from your mentee, their parent(s) or teachers about the impact your involvement has had on them?
MC: That’s my best feedback from the mentee – that he wanted to continue the relationship. He is very bright and a little bit rebellious when I try to introduce more letter and number games instead of 100% soccer and Lionel Messi. I need to up my game!
SFEF: Any advice for readers who may want to get involved as a mentor through the Ed Fund?
MC: Before volunteering, I worried that it might be hard to recognize the right boundaries in a mentoring relationship, e.g., concern and time commitment. [It was] needless worrying. The Ed Fund training for mentors and tutors is both welcoming and affirming that this is a wonderful way to share yourself with a young person who may like an additional caring adult in their lives. I highly recommend it!
The final Ed Fund training to sign up as a mentor for the 2023-24 school is on Tues., Jan. 16. Learn more and sign up here.