Back To School: A Mentor’s Perspective

This post was written by Michelle Storm, an educator at St. Paul City School and an ABF mentor.

Regenerating. Getting fit and healthy. Face to a warm sun bath. Reconnecting with family and friends. Reunions. Hammock time. A Willa Cather reading run. Cultural events to share with students. D.C. in mid-summer heat; soul-filling visits to the Frederick Douglass home and Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

Seeking new ideas—through training or everyday experiences.  

…These are all ways teachers prepare for the new school year! Welcome back, amazing, dedicated, caring, compassionate, and PASSIONATE teachers!  

Five days into the new school year, feeling both joyous exhilaration and bone deep exhaustion, I have to close my eyes and breathe to remember summer days…that wasn’t too long ago, right?  

The simple things—walking my dog and working in my garden—those experiences made me think of finding a pet reading buddy for my classroom or starting a community garden in our third grade.  

And they made me think of spending time with two special mentees. The 1:1 experiences with each restore and give me hope and optimism for the future.  

Monserrath, now in sixth grade, had a dream to be on stage. She loved seeing High School Musical and specifically wanted to build her confidence. With the support of an Ann Bancroft Foundation grant, Monserrath dared to dream. She tried out the performer’s world, as surely as she tried on costumes at Steppingstone Theater musical theater camps this summer. The pride and shining smile on Monserrath’s face as she sang and danced in the week’s culminating performances were proof of her success.   

Our students at St. Paul City School face every imaginable trauma, from poverty and homelessness, to immigration, to violence in their homes or communities. I don’t ever try to “fix” anything for my students or families. Trying to address these large and often systematic problems would only overwhelm and sink my psyche—and efforts.  

Instead, I try to focus on small, daily, very concrete steps. For example, teaching peace, resilience, and problem-solving skills. These are the tools I hope each of my students can carry with them throughout life. I don’t want to do anything for them that they cannot do themselves. Instilling literacy and communication tools are my top priority.  

When it comes to girls, I believe they face the same issues of the past.  Sexism, low self-esteem, media’s portrayal of ideal body images, and the sexualization and fetishization of young girls of all races and cultures. Only now, due to technology and internet use, these societal failures are magnified and on fast-forward.  

I want to see mentees having authentic interactions in real, everyday situations. As their teacher, my hope is that they build their whole selves. This includes using technology in healthy, balanced, innovative ways that enhance—not harm—their lives. I think the Ann Bancroft Foundation grants help girls to rise above negative and dangerous messages and situations. Swimming, dancing, singing, rock climbing, horseback riding, ice skating, cooking and baking: these activities build girls up—body, mind and soul. Building a strong sense of safety, self, and purpose helps girls rise above the torrent of information (and misinformation) available online and on social media.  

Schools can nurture and raise up girls by giving them a safe place to explore their interests and talents. We can celebrate their successes and walk with them through failures. With organizations like ABF, we can provide resources for them to navigate their future: literacy, communication, logic, STEM, healthy relationships, and advocacy. 

My role as a teacher and mentor is to be a facilitator. Ja’Shae was a student I had as a 2nd grader at Hazel Park Prep Academy in St. Paul ten years ago. Now, as a high school senior, she and her mother approached me about the Ann Bancroft Foundation Dare to Dream grant. Two of Ja’Shae’s younger sisters were recipients. Ja’Shae had a dream, along with the determination and drive, to apply for the $500 grant. This was exactly the amount she needed to go on a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) fall tour, sponsored by the Progressive Black Baptist Church, St. Paul. 

Ja’Shae works relentlessly on her grades, participates in basketball, and holds down a part-time job at a pizza restaurant. All while she is helping her mom care for four younger siblings. Ja’Shae has all the makings of a success story. “I want to go where there are more people who look like me so I can learn about my culture, heritage,” she compellingly wrote in her essay. “I could go to a local community or other in-state college, but I want to learn about my history and myself. I will be the first in my family to attend college or university if this works out. My mom has done so much for me and my family—I know she will be so proud.” 

There is nothing I can do for Ja’Shae that she hasn’t already done for herself. As her teacher and cheerleader, I can only urge her on. When I read an essay and give feedback to a girl, her dream is already there, within reach. I’m simply her mentor, aka, “humble servant.”

My job is to help Monserrath and Ja’Shae’s dreams find their way forward—through people and places like the Ann Bancroft Foundation. 

Click here to find out more about becoming an ABF mentor.


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