The struggle for Baltimore high school students to graduate is a battle. Only 68% of Baltimore students graduate. Of those, only 41% enroll in college. However, students in three public high schools were recently given resources to assist in their development through a program called iMentor.
iMentor is a national mentoring organization headquartered in New York that opened an office in Baltimore in 2019. However, due to COVID, the organization did not partner with schools until the 2021-22 school year. The organization’s goal is to increase college graduation rates for first-generation students from low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore by pairing the students with mentors. According to their website, “iMentor supports students by providing personalized guidance through mentorship as well as resources to help students graduate high school, succeed in college, and embark on meaningful careers.”
Currently, iMentor is partnered with Baltimore Design School, Western High School and Academy for College and Career Exploration (ACCE), with plans to move to a Baltimore County school in the 2023-’24 school year. There are currently 206 high school students being served, with 66 college students working with their mentor from college.
“We introduce the mentor relationship in 11th grade,” said Sidney Wilson, newly appointed Executive Director of the iMentor Baltimore office. “This way, the four-year relationship spans through a more structured program while the students are in high school, yet stays a powerful guiding presence in the student’s life while they are in college.”
Nationally, iMentor students are 45% more likely to immediately enroll in college than their peers. In Baltimore, 83% of the mentored students applied to college, and 100% were accepted. 73% of iMentor Baltimore high school graduates from the class of 2022 enrolled in college immediately following high school graduation. This is a steep increase from the 2021 school year, where only 46% enrolled. Unfortunately, the rate of continuation to the second year of college of the iMentor students dropped to 48%, but Wilson is confident that those numbers will increase as the mentoring relationships continue.
As a first-generation college student himself, Wilson, who started as a mentor, and continues that position while maintaining the executive director role, understands the mutually beneficial components of a mentorship relationship. He is confident that the relationships in Baltimore City and County will continue to grow. The problem, according to Wilson, is finding mentors.
“This is the time of year that begins our annual recruiting season,” said Wilson. “Through the fall, we host multiple networking, mentor-only events. We’re hoping to recruit 400 more mentors for the ’23-’24 school year. From a business standpoint, mentors are ambassadors of their organization. There’s an opportunity for their mentees to have apprenticeships or internships at their place of business. Our program leverages the social capacity of our mentors to provide additional benefits to these students, as well as the mentors’ businesses.” By sharing this with college-educated Baltimore professionals, Wilson hopes to expand the mentorship pool.
The mentor program is critical to the success of iMentor. The mentorship program is completely voluntary and is comprised of college-educated professionals who agree to work with a particular student for two years although they are encouraged to extend that to four years. The mentors meet with their mentee digitally on a weekly basis, and once a month in person.
Forming an emotional connection is a critical component for mentoring pairs in achieving the objectives of the program. To do this, mentors are provided the tools and resources to assist their student academically but are also available for mental and emotional support. One mentor, when asked about the resources provided to her from iMentor, stated that their message to her was, “we’ve got you. We know you’re not trained for this, but what we want from you is your love, your emotional availability and your want to help.”
The mentors are not simply given a student with a thumbs up and “good luck.” Mentors are matched with a student through a specific review process of every student profile to find a duo who will match well. Each pair is then assigned a college success program manager. This manager teaches the weekly iMentor class and ensures that the mentors and students are meeting their required time together. This role also assists the mentor in building a strong mentoring relationship and provides curriculum assistance.
“If I didn’t have the answer, or if I just needed someone to give me some advice on how to handle [something], reaching out to the program manager was incredibly important,” said a Baltimore mentor.
Wilson spoke to his own mentoring experience, explaining that “It has been very rewarding. There are preconceived notions about young people these days. But I’ve been able to learn from my mentee; how he sees the world has helped me grow as a person. It allows me to stay grounded; to keep in mind that service is ultimately the most important thing we can do as a society. This relationship and partnership have made me a better person.”
“Even though we’re coming up on five years in the Baltimore area, this is a fresh start,” said Wilson. “My goal for the next five years is to serve 5,000 Baltimore students.”
If you are interested in becoming a mentor, learn more at https://imentor.org/get-involved/become-a-mentor. If you are a school interested in partnering with iMentor, visit https://imentor.org/get-involved/school-partners.