By Mario Cordova
PASS AmeriCorps Mentor
Through the PASS AmeriCorps program, I'm able to make a difference by mentoring "at-risk" students.
PASS AmeriCorps is a little-known mentoring program overseen locally by the San Diego County Office of Education that places college graduates into schools to mentor students. AmeriCorps is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service, including through
the PASS Program.
I am one of 27 PASS program mentors. We aim to inspire a case load of around 30 students on a daily basis at schools in North County and the San Diego Unified School District.
Utilizing researched-based curriculum, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and small groups to reconnect these sometimes distant, withdrawn, or standoffish students from falling through the cracks is no easy task. In fact, it is probably one of the most daunting tasks that has ever been entrusted to me.
Being a third-year member in the PASS program, I have had the pleasure of serving my first two terms at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Oceanside. I found myself integrating into middle school life and connecting with students from outside the program easily. Band practices, ASB, working with my PASS students, and attending staff meetings were common in my day-to-day work. I was all over the campus each day and had a well-organized schedule that kept me in line with providing the services my students needed.
It was a fun and exciting time at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, but by the end of the last semester, I was spent. Realizing the challenges and battles that the PASS students endure every day was draining, and I found myself emotionally attached with the students. As their mentor, their accomplishments became my own, but so did their failures and regressive actions. Though I cherish the experiences and memories that I gained from my students, my heart and soul went through too many ups and downs and were in need of some mending. This all changed, however, when I heard of the PASS program's expansion to San Diego Unified.
The PASS program was approved to serve in four different middle and elementary schools in the San Diego district. I was thrilled for the program and was left stunned to find out that PASS would be starting a program at Memorial Preparatory for Scholars and Athletes, my old middle school. Memorial Junior High, as it was known then, was home to some of my most unforgettable memories while growing up. My first crush, my first "A" on a test, and the award-winning band program all live freshly in my mind as my best school years, but I also remember the bad things about those years. Gangs, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes were ever-present in the Logan Heights community and often seeped onto the school campus. This left me with a choice: use the experience gained in the PASS program to kick start my career or choose to serve one more year at a school and community I know, love, and want to help. The choice was easy.
I'm already in my fourth week of service at Memorial Prep, and I could not be happier. The staff, administration, and teachers have welcomed me with open arms, and I have moved swiftly in getting to know the students. Kick starting PASS at the school hasn't come without its hiccups, but I am making great progress in introducing the staff and students to AmeriCorps and service. It's an unexplainable feeling to be able to serve the youth in my very own community, and I will work tirelessly to make sure that they get the services they need. Though I am unsure at this point if a career in counseling is in my future, I do know that I am blessed to have such an experience in my life.