By Anna Statz, PASS AmeriCorps mentor at Oak Glen High School in Valley Center
As a PASS mentor in a continuation school, I first learned about Mario from other adults at the school. His "accomplishments" included fighting, low academic performance, drug addiction, a broken family, intermittent homelessness, and far too much time spent in juvenile correctional facilities.
Despite Oak Glen High School having a population of only 70 to 80 students, I did not have the opportunity to meet Mario until many weeks into the school year. With 35 missed days in the first two months of school, it was exceedingly challenging to coordinate face time, let alone establish a mentoring relationship.
It began with a few minutes here and there, during which our conversations seemed to skim the surface of the challenges he faced, both past and present. Despite his willingness to engage, I had reservations about my ability to connect with him. Our lives were profoundly different, and in the majority of our time together, I did not speak, leaving the talking to him.
Towards the end of October, Mario started coming to the PASS room for several hours a day for days in a row. With each visit, he revealed more of his story, which was filled with unimaginable pain and heartache. In those few days, I got to know one of the kindest and most selfless individuals I have ever had the privilege to know. The boy from the stories I had initially heard was not the individual I was getting to know.
We rapidly established a mentoring connection in the safety of the PASS room through our shared beliefs about how lives of any kind should be treated, our very similar sense of humor, and our mutual willingness to accept each other for who we are.
Mario's attendance became increasingly consistent. The principal, teachers, and I came to an agreement that he could spend the day in the PASS room, attending class for important lessons but completing his work and exams with me. By November, he was showing up nearly every day. Several teachers, including the principal, pulled me aside to share that he was now consistently turning in high-quality work and exhibiting noticeable changes.
The culmination of his efforts to change manifested during his finals, when he came—literally dancing—into the PASS room to share that he had achieved multiple As on his tests. The joy and, more importantly, pride radiating from him was more than I could have hoped for. To hear him go from mostly Fs and a lonely C to achieving multiple As on his exams was a profound reminder that a people's pasts are often no indication of what their futures hold.
His current success is the product of the collaborative efforts of all of the positive role models in his life. The PASS program and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help him set in motion the changes he wanted for himself but could not realize earlier.
To this day, I do not know what exactly made him decide to place his trust in me. From what I have gathered through our conversations, he most appreciated my lack of judgment and my stubborn belief that he was capable of living up the potential he knew he had. Now and again, he expresses that the PASS room is the only place in the school where he feels safe and secure. Although the school staff is amazing, students like Mario may have been lost because of their reputation and poor attendance if it weren't for programs like PASS.
PASS AmeriCorps is a mentoring program that strives to keep kids in school and out of gangs.