Serendipity is the luck of finding things of value that you weren’t looking for.  It feels like magic, and it’s also the perfect way to describe how the Socorro Educational Mentoring Alliance (SEMA) got started.  It was April 2016 when Dr. John Graham from MATCH New Mexico came to talk about a mentoring program where college students are hired to mentor third graders, one on one, for two hours twice a week to help them learn to read.  He told stories of shy children coming out of their shells with the confidence they gained, and the relationships that were created between mentor and mentee.  He talked about collective impact, where members of an entire community align around a common goal of creating better futures for our children, and the critical importance of learning how to read by third grade.  I was crazy inspired, but the entire time I thought, how do we find resources to pay NMT students? 

Here’s where some more magic comes in.  A month later, I sat next to Marliss Monette during a student appreciation dinner at NMT.  She was the Director of Financial Aid at the time, and let me know that the Federal Work Study program had funds to support tutors in the community.  She asked if I had any ideas of how we could use these funds, and of course I had the perfect solution.  Serendipity!

We started the program in September of that year.  It was challenging because we learned how to do everything from the mistakes we made along the way, but the rewards were great.  That year, our mentored students made huge improvements in reading literacy.  The third grade reading proficiency rate jumped from 7% to 37% according to the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) district report cards.  But the best part was the transformations of the mentees and mentors.

In a field trip to NMT that December, the mentors and mentees had pizza in Fidel Center, toured labs and spent time with the augmented reality sandbox at the Bureau of Geology.  Before that experience, one mentee had wanted to grow up to be a cashier.  After that trip, she wanted to be a geologist.  That single experience transformed her view of the world.

The transformation of the mentors is no less profound.  After working with their mentees and seeing what a difference they can make, several of them have chosen to become teachers.  In fact, one of our amazing Socorro High School teachers was a mentor in this program.

This year we are expanding this program with a grant from NMPED to hire Socorro High School students to mentor students at Sarracino Middle School and Cottonwood Valley Charter School.  The SHS students will take a course in Mentoring and Leadership at NMT so they are well prepared to help their younger peers.  The rewards of knowing what an impact they can make may inspire many of them to become teachers.  It’s a perfect opportunity to grow our own teachers. Serendipity!

This column represents the views of the author and does not reflect those of New Mexico Tech, the Socorro Consolidated School District, 100% Socorro, or any other organizations, affiliations or their members.