January is National Mentoring Month, and we are taking a moment to spotlight two incredible Ed Fund volunteers, Chelsea Jones and Alexandra (Alex) Argo, who both serve as mentors in SFUSD classrooms. Chelsea has been working with her fourth-grade mentee for two years, and through her consistent weekly lunches with him, has built a special bond and witnessed first-hand how his literacy skills and confidence have greatly improved. Alex got involved as a mentor last year with a high school student and has supported her mentee through major milestones such as being elected president of her class, passing her permit test, and submitting college applications.
Chelsea and Alex are also both involved in the Ed Fund’s Young Leaders Council. We thank them for their deep commitment to San Francisco students and schools!
Read on for our interview with Chelsea and Alex.
Can you tell us a bit about your story, including how your personal journey led to volunteering with the SF Ed Fund as a mentor?
Chelsea Jones (CJ): I am originally from Los Angeles, CA. Prior to relocating to the SF Bay Area in 2019, I spent years working in higher education counseling. In tandem, I pursued graduate study at the University of Southern California and volunteered locally with South Los Angeles and East Los Angeles K-12 schools to help raise interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects and raise awareness about how the outcomes of STEM education and practices exist in our everyday lives. These experiences were foundational to my student engagement and outreach orientation and have served me well in my approach as a tutor/mentor for the SF Ed Fund. For the past two years, I have been able to build a beautiful dynamic with my mentee, Maine, whom I met as a third grader and is now thriving in the fourth grade. Through our fun, open conversations, weekly lunches, and focus on reading and writing fundamentals, I have been privileged to see
, first-hand , how his literacy skills and confidence have greatly improved. This is demonstrated by Maine taking the lead on reading pages aloud, his ability to insightfully and imaginatively analyze and make sense of the subject matter, and through his overall excitement to continue meeting, which is a testament to our familial and trusting relationship.
Alexandra Argo (AA): Since high school, I’ve been involved in tutoring and mentoring, and throughout college, I volunteered as a mentor with Best Buddies, a nonprofit that works with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. My experience as a mentor with Best Buddies taught me more than I ever anticipated. My former mentee, Isaac, actually passed away last year and I believe my relationship with him forever altered my perspective on the significance of a mentorship relationship for both the mentee and the mentor. A mentor has just as much to gain and learn from mentoring as the mentee. When I came across the amazing work of the SF Ed Fund, I wanted to continue to pursue my passion for mentorship and provide a positive impact on someone in whatever capacity that is helpful.
What have you learned about yourself through your experience mentoring? What have you learned from your mentee?
CJ: What I have learned and appreciated most about myself throughout my mentoring experience has been the ease in which I have used my soft skills and my fun and personable demeanor to guide each interaction with my mentee, rather than leading with rigidity. Working with young people, especially, during their lunch hour can sometimes present restlessness and resistance to more learning because it is their only learning-free hour, which I can understand. So in response, it is sensical to lead with fun, with friendliness, with food/nutrition, and with kindness before transitioning into more lesson-related activities, such as reading and writing. I have appreciated my ability to pick up on where my student may be emotionally and shift how we engage with each other, based on his needs. Flowing and adapting to the mood between the two of us is important, because every weekly interaction is different and I may not be aware of what he was experiencing prior to me arriving. This natural approach to mentorship has allowed my mentee to be very receptive to our shared time.
My mentee is brilliant and I am so fortunate to learn from him every week. Taking a deep and sincere interest in him, his family, his likes/dislikes, his ideas and opinions humanizes the bond between the two of us and teaches me that differences such as race backgrounds, age, gender identification, etc. only inform and contextualize conversations rather than present barriers to them. Working with my mentee has reminded me of the importance of employing imagination at all times, that jokes and laughter are always a remedy, and that food and conversation must come before work. Collectively, this is the key to all around success.
AA: I have learned that I love providing support across a wide variety of contexts, whether academic, social, emotional, or otherwise. Rather than narrowly focusing on one subject in tutoring, as a mentor, you have a broader view on a student’s life and can provide additional support with the entire picture. My mentee has taught me the value of consistency and communication, even if the schedule and normal meeting cadence require alteration. I have learned that even when you might feel pressed for time, it is important to find time to communicate and touch base to continue to maintain your constant presence.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your experience mentoring?
CJ: One of the most interesting and beautiful mentoring experiences took place during an event where Maine’s school hosted a Drum Circle with DRUMMM, an organization that facilitates drum circles and interactive rhythm events throughout the Bay Area. To give context, there is a joint mentor event once a month where all mentors and mentees come together, the school provides lunch, and we all engage in paired activities around shared tables. As it is midday, students are often full of energy and doing what they prefer to do during the free time they are accustomed to having, but this was certainly a unique time. The DRUMMM leaders assembled their instruments in the library, which is not where we usually hold mentor day. The space was both intimate and open, inviting everyone to take part in what would be such a moving exchange. The engagement from the students was automatic. They each excitedly sat behind a drum that called to them and began to make music until everyone was called to respectfully stop. The drum leaders began the lesson with the history of drum circles and even asked students questions about where the types of drums we were playing originated from. Heartened by the eagerness in which a number of students shared their knowledge of African instruments and history, it set the tone for such a memorable lesson. For the remainder of the event, students were energized, expressive, collaborative, and committed to the unifying purpose of the drum circle. Music is undoubtedly the great unifier and I was so grateful to share in that moment with my mentee. It further reminded me that bringing diversity and well-roundedness to how a mentor/mentee spends time is important to expanding the depth of the relationship.
What lessons have you learned from mentoring?
AA: I’ve learned that patience and compassion are the two most important qualities to have when spending time with my mentee. No two sessions are the same and I always have to listen and understand the right way to guide our time in a way that would be most beneficial. One day we might be taking a practice permit test together to prepare and another day we might be working on college essays.
What motivates you to succeed as a mentor?
CJ: I think whether or not I am a successful mentor is a question for the mentee. However, I do strive to be another reliable, trustworthy, and consistent adult in my mentee’s life, wherein he trusts me to help build him up and reach whichever goals, whether small or large, because we all need those kinds of people, at any age. If I can play a small part in a young person’s growth, if I can help them read a bit better, if I can help them make meaning of what’s going on in the world around them, I absolutely will at any chance I am given. I think that’s the responsibility of decent adult human beings who (should) care about the future, our children’s futures.
AA: The major reason is that I want to see my mentee be happy and successful, providing whatever support she needs along her journey. Another motivator is that I have been the beneficiary of some great mentors throughout my life, and I feel a strong desire to try and emulate that role and impact for someone else. My mentee has applied to colleges this year and will graduate in the spring. I want to get her through this next milestone, but I plan to continue to maintain our relationship even post-graduation. I believe in building mentor and mentee relationships that transcend your stage of life and move with you through the different phases.
What feedback have you received from your mentee, their parent(s) or teachers about the impact your involvement has had on them?
CJ: My mentee, his teachers, and the school’s social worker have always expressed gratitude for our time spent over the past two academic years. At the conclusion of the previous school year, my mentee asked repeatedly if I would be coming back to mentor him when he moves on to the next grade – to which I full-heartedly agreed. Further, my mentee has been consistently demonstrating growth in his reading ability, critical thinking, and writing. I would like to believe that the extra help, in addition to any other help he may be receiving, is working in his favor.
AA: My mentee has let me know throughout our sessions that the weekly cadence of someone pushing her to stay on top of her work is helpful. My favorite texts I received from my mentee are when she was excited about accomplishing something related to what we were working on together like being elected president of her class, passing her permit test, submitting her college applications, etc. I am so incredibly proud of my mentee and I feel lucky to have built this relationship with her!
Any advice for readers who may want to get involved as a mentor through the SF Ed Fund?
CJ: If you are considering bringing a mentee into your life, that is the first step towards making one of the most beautiful decisions one can make. If you are a remote or hybrid employee, or your job allows you flexibility to do service work, absolutely make it a priority to join the Ed Fund and donate your time. As far as advice goes, engage and get to know the child as you would anyone else. Show up with a great attitude, but also be okay with being appropriately vulnerable with them, we’re all human. Adapt and be flexible. Have a plan but [know that] it is fine going off script, as needed. Get to know them before deciding what you think is best for them. Have regular talks with their teacher or the school’s social worker. Have relationships with them, too! Build community on campus, because it ultimately and collectively serves in the best interest of the student.
AA: Do it! Even if you want to start small, there are events or information sessions you can join to learn more. It has been a pleasure to be involved in the amazing work of this organization and you will never regret taking the time to have a positive impact on someone’s life!
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. Click here to learn more about how you can volunteer as a mentor through the Ed Fund.