Project Rousseau-Houston Mentoring Project

A Peacemaking Project by Adinawa A.

What is the injustice we are solving?

To solve this injustice of the gap in education levels and graduation rates for low-income students we will address inequity in quality educational and mentorship support by providing underserved and in-need students at a local high school the opportunity to build lasting relationships and receive mentoring from college students.

Our Compassionate Solution:

To solve this injustice of the gap in education levels and graduation rates for low-income students
we will address inequity in quality educational and mentorship support
by providing underserved and in-need students at a local high school the opportunity to build lasting relationships and receive mentoring from college students.

Our Project Plan:

Goals

  • Our main goal is to take a holistic approach to addressing some of the institutionalized challenges faced by Houston youth by offering both educational and moral support.
  • We work with high school students from underserved communities and strive to develop genuine, lifelong bonds between them and our college students and encourage them to maximize and reach their educational and vocational potentials.
  • As we are working in a region in which the difference in high school graduation rates between low-income and higher income students is more than 15 percent, we aim to play a role in closing that gap.
  • We offer weekly mentoring to students at local high school and provide assistance with academics, and offer guidance for successfully graduating high school preparing for college by providing SAT prep, and college essay assistance
  • We ensure that our students have the tools to succeed academically, but in addition we aim to engage them in community service that will allow them to be part of the solution to the issues faced by their communities.
  • We also provide community service opportunities and exposure to various experiences (including college visits and events throughout our city) through our Broadening Horizons program that enrich our students and allow them to become more engaged
  • We prepare them to apply to colleges of their choice with increased admissions prospects.
  • We hope to expand our program so that we can facilitate travel to and from our partner school every week and build a more consistent channel of interaction with our students.

We will increase my / our compassion by...

We will increase our compassion by being understanding of our students' needs and the constraints they may be facing in achieving academically depending on adversities they may experience, while at the same time ensuring that we motivate and push them so that they know they are able to achieve their greatest potential. We will ensure we are being open-minded mentors and are taking steps to assess and understanding of each of our students. Furthermore, as most of our students come from low-income households, we will ensure that every opportunity we offer is inclusive and accessible to them, and be sensitive and realistic in the tasks we assign and so as to not discourage or disengage them from participating. We will also ensure that the support we provide them is sufficient and individualized to their specific needs. One of our mentors, Ivan, shares his experience and how he has grown through his involvement: “It is [my mentee] Steven and this organization which have taught me that regardless of the difficulty of situation or times, we can never let go of the overall goal, whatever that may be. For Steven, this goal is to go a four-year university. And this goal is beginning to play out. He will be the first of his family to go a four-year university and as he creates his CommonApp and I see his accomplishment concrete in his application, I feel proud. Even though, arguably, it could be said that Steven has largely grown up in a toxic environment, he has persevered, he has seen his goal and is so close to seeing his successes play out. Yes – I may have empowered Steven to get this far. But the truth is, his successes are his own and they have taught me more than I could have ever taught him. Now and in the future, Steven is no longer simply my mentee – he is my friend, an important part of my network, a member of our growing Project Rousseau family, and someone with whom I have a close, meaningful, and powerful relationship. That is the power of this organization – we are more than a mentorship program. We are a vast network of individuals who learn and empower one another.”

How will you show courage?

We will show courage as we build trust with each of our students and gain their trust as we determine ways to better serve them. As we continue to work with our students and they work with us, we will keep an open mind regarding the fact that there is a lot to learn from both sides, and that our students are not the only ones gaining something from this experience. As one of my fellow mentors shares: “As my relationship with my mentee Steven has grown, it has grown to become a meaningful relationship that has given as much to me as it has given to Steven. Yes – while I believe that I have empowered Steven to begin to reach his potential, Steven has taught me lessons that have made me a better, more hardworking, and ultimately more successful person. It has been through my mentorship of Steven that I have seen drive, motivation, and perseverance at its finest – more so than in my hometown, high school, and even Rice University. Through Steven and Project Rousseau, I have learned that I have had substantial privileges growing up (something I never before considered), and that this has played a role in all of my successes. It is Steven and this organization that has taught me that regardless of the difficulty of situation or times, we can never let go of the overall goal, whatever that may be.” We will also show courage by continually encouraging our students to take initiatives of their own to help better their community; they will be courageous as they begin learning how to identify different social issues around them and think of innovative ways to tackle them and begin projects of their own to address different issues.

How will you collaborate with others?

We will continue to work with Houston Heights High School and its administrators to enable us to work even more effectively with the high school students. We will also be collaborating with Rice University and our undergraduate mentors to ensure an abundance of volunteers committed to our students’ success. We also collaborate with local community service groups to create events for our students that allow them to serve their community. Lastly, and most importantly, all of our mentors and mentees will be collaborating and communicating with each other in order for our project to be successful. By being open and sharing ideas and remaining committed to helping our students, and through their dedication and cooperation with us, we will be able to achieve great things with them as we prepare them to be the most successful and college-ready learners they can be.

How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)

To determine if we are moving in the right direction, we will measure the depth of friendship and trust developed between mentees and mentors that transcends all boundaries, socioeconomic, educational, or others. In addition, we will assess the improvement levels of our students going into the program and at different checkpoints throughout their time in the program to ensure that their grades are improving, that they are attaining higher scores on their tests, and that they are engaging more with their community. We will keep our students accountable of their community engagement by tracking the number of community service hours they regularly perform.

Key Steps

  • Reach out to Houston Heights High administration and advertise Project Rousseau and the many resources we can offer students
  • Establish larger cohort of 45 committed students to be part of program
  • Determine most efficient methods of traveling to and from high school
  • Train volunteers for at least 2 hours and ensure they understand the goals and mission of our program
  • Create study plans and database of resources most beneficial to our students over the next semester.

Reflection:

How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?

Working on this project made us realize the overlapping injustices which cause academic and social problems. One of the students we worked with in Houston was suffering due to homelessness, which their mentor was involved with solving. Not only did this help the student, but the mentor learned a great deal about child services and housing policies in Texas.

How did your community change as a result of your project?

Mentors and students formed new bonds and meaningful relationships by working with each other throughout the course of the semester. They shared experiences and advice, and mentors learnt the value of being there for their students under all circumstances.

How many people were impacted by your project?

50

Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project?

15-20 high school students met each week with their Project Rousseau mentors, with a further 10 engaging in occasional meetings with mentors this semester. 25 Rice University students were involved as mentors and benefited through their experience mentoring.

How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?

High school students, faced with challenging circumstances, including dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Harvey as well as the risk of homelessness, provided real insight into this injustice for mentors. By listening to them closely, and by giving them time to describe their feelings, we learnt as mentors the power of listening compassionately and giving high schoolers the chance to get things off their chest, even if we couldn't solve all the issues they were facing all at once!

What did your team learn?

Not only did one team member learn about the child services and policies to tackle homelessness in Texas, they learnt about how such social issues affect academic choices. Given their housing challenges the mentee is now applying to community colleges with dorm rooms in order to mitigate against such challenges in the future.

What challenges did your team overcome?

As well as helping students with housing difficulties, mentors faced academic difficulties with their students. They learned how to motivate them effectively, and how to push them to achieve more in their classes.

How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?

We worked closely with the principal of Houston Heights High School principal, encouraging them to be involved directly with students, including those who faced challenges this semester. We also worked closely with staff at Project Rousseau in New York to make sure we shared knowledge, resources and experiences with them in tackling tricky situations.

Comments:

RaulPF C.
8 January 2018 9:10

Thanks for sharing your project, Adinawa! Can you tell us a bit more about what you are planning to do and where you need help?

Fish S.
10 January 2018 16:42

Hi Adinawa! Thanks for posting this project! What have you done so far in Houston? What do you plan to do this spring? Looking forward to hearing more from you :)

Adrian B.
12 February 2018 15:52

Hi Zach,

Wow! What an impressive project. I can tell that you deeply understand the root causes of this injustice, and are taking a multi-layered approach to helping solve it. Thanks for your incredible work!

As part of the process of completing peacemaking projects, Peace First staff give formal feedback on important steps of your project. One of those steps is the compassionate insight. Your compassionate insight is clear and detailed--you're good to go! Are you thinking about applying for a grant from Peace First, or are there other ways we can support you?

I'm also curious if you've connected with other groups doing similar work across the US. I'm happy to help think about other organizations you can ally with as you deepen this project! Let me know how else we can support you.

Best,
Adrian

Adrian B.
14 March 2018 14:23

Hi Adinawa,

Congratulations! Your project has been selected to receive a Peace First Challenge mini-grant. We will be in touch soon with details about this payment.

The mini-grant process is also a space for you to get feedback on your peacemaking project. We hope you will use this feedback to further strengthen your project. Please see the feedback on your mini-grant below.

STRENGTHS:

I love this project! You are thinking through every step and possibility, and have included a great testimonial from a mentor. You've clearly identified the injustice, and are collaborating in significant ways with other people, schools, and organizations to make this a reality.

I love how thoughtful you are about this work, especially the way you talk about how mentors also gain a lot from this experience. Your ideas about involving students in ways to take action against injustices in their communities are exciting! Are you thinking about inviting your mentees to take part of the resources on the Peace First platform? We have a facilitator manual you can check out (https://www.peacefirst.org/resource/facilitator-manual), along with a peacemakers' manual (https://www.peacefirst.org/resource/peacemaker-manual), if you decide to implement some workshops on this.

I'm so excited about this work, and excited that you're applying for travel funds so mentors can build consistent relationships with mentees.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH:

One thing I'm wondering about is where are the voices of the students you serve in how you're approaching this work. Have you interviewed them about their needs, and what would be useful for them in a program like this? And have you talked with folks who are causing this achievement gap between low-income students and high-income students? These two groups will have deep insights that may strengthen your work in ways you don't expect. This will deepen your understanding of the issues, too, and allow you to make sure your project has input and leadership from youth who are currently/directly affected by this issue.

Here's more information on what that interview process could look like: https://www.peacefirst.org/resource/understand-1-talking-others If you have already been doing this, I'd love to know more about it! Let me know more in your project page about how you might make this happen.

Throughout this work, I can tell that you are supporting and encouraging students in a thoughtful way to take risks and invest in their futures. I'm wondering how you model that risk-taking and vulnerability as mentors. What acts of reasonable risk-taking and courage can/do you take in an effort to close this achievement gap? You named that being open to learning from mentees is one act of courage, which is true--what are some others? I'd love to learn more.

Really excited to hear more! Keep up the phenomenal work. Congratulations and best of luck with your project!

Best,
Adrian

Alistair S.
28 March 2018 12:00

Hi Adrian,
Thank you very much for awarding us the grant. Would you be able to send over the form to accept the funding for this particular project? Unfortunately, we never received this and I do not want to miss out on the opportunity. If you could send it over that would be fantastic!
We will be sure to act on this really useful feedback going forward.
Many thanks,
Alistair

Kelsey T.
29 March 2018 17:52

Hi Alistair -- just forwarded the e-mail with the link to the form to you!

Best,

Kelsey

RaulPF C.
1 June 2018 19:33

Hi Adinawa!

Congratulations on finishing your peacemaking project! I’m on the Peace First team and wanted to say thank you for your amazing work and for taking time to share your work.

Below you will find some feedback based on your Reflection, which we hope will help you to celebrate your incredible accomplishment and reflect on how to grow and develop your project in the future:

I was impressed by the level of work that you put into understanding the injustice you selected. Your project also demonstrated how you use courage, compassion, and collaboration in identifying the issue, a potential solution and in its implementation.

We would love to see how you could use what you learned to expand this initiative and we look forward to seeing how we could continue supporting your work.

We hope you will stay in touch and keep us up to date as you continue your work to create change!

Thanks for making the world a better place!

Raul