Early in April, I was able to meet Pam Gereau and Iridian, a bright 5th grade student at Reilly Elementary. This was the first interview I conducted with a mentor and student, which has been a dream of mine since starting with Austin Partners in Education in August 2007. With over 850 mentors, it’s very easy to get buried in spreadsheets and I truly cherish any face time I am able to have with the amazing people who participate in this program and the students they serve.
Even though I was the one asking the questions, I was quite nervous. I had quickly typed up some questions but I had no idea how I would capture the spark I quickly saw between Pam and Iridian. Unfortunately, my greatest fears were realized, and the video file of our interview was corrupted, leaving only my memory to help translate their remarkable relationship.
Pam and Iridian met in the fall of 2004 when Iridian was a first grader at Reilly. Throughout our conversation, they talked about the different adventures they had gone on and the many things they had learned together. Though seemingly quiet, Iridian was eloquent and confident when she answered my questions. I could tell that she was proud to have a mentor and that Pam was very proud of her.
Next year, Iridian will be attending middle school and she was excited to have continue Pam alongside her. Every time I talk with middle school mentors, I feel like I am reliving my childhood. I flashback to all the drama and insecurities I went through in those three short years and am so thankful that these students have someone to help them sort through everything. Last week, I was talking with another middle school mentor and she said that when she was walking up to the school to visit her student, she saw a group of girls huddled together in tears. She said that her heart broke for them because she knew, no matter what the cause, their world had just fallen apart. And more than likely, their world would fall apart the following week for a completely different reason.
Transitioning with a student to a new school can be a difficult task and some relationships do not continue because the student wants the opportunity to venture out on their own in a new environment. On the other hand, many students greatly appreciate the support they receive through the transition and rely on the stability they find in their mentors. While this would be a daunting task for anyone, I could tell that Pam and Iridian have built a solid foundation for their mentorship over the last 5 years that will help them work together through the challenges that may come their way.
During our interview, Pam reminded Iridian of the promise she had made to stay with her through high school — a promise I believe Iridian will have no problem holding her to. Pam had also given Iridian an additional incentive to pursue her goal of going to college. When Iridian is 18 years old and has enrolled in the university of her choice, Pam has planned to take her on a cruise!
While Iridian obviously has a lot to look forward to with Pam, I think she already feels the biggest rewards now. When I asked Iridian what she would say to people who are unsure about whether they would like to mentor a student, I couldn’t have asked for a better response. A mentor is someone you can trust, someone you know really cares about you and someone who listens to you. This kind of insight only comes from experience.
As our interview wrapped up, I asked Pam and Iridian where they would like to take some photos. We went outside and Pam showed me where they spent some of their first visits — on the swing set.