By mentors of Boost! West Oakland

Children in West Oakland face many challenges, including unstable home lives due to poverty, incarceration and substance abuse. Their parents, many of whom lack functional literacy skills and did not complete high school, are often not well equipped to help them succeed.

Boost! West Oakland is an exceptional program that provides intensive academic and social support to over 100 students every year in grades K-5 by matching each student with their own designated volunteer tutor/mentor for 1.5 hours or more of support each week.

Moreover, they do so with outstanding results, thriving from the one-on-one relationships. They demonstrate improvement in academic performance, self-esteem, motivation, and willingness to take on new challenges.

Boost!’s long-term goal is to instill in youth the self-efficacy to achieve their learning goals, develop positive relationships and contribute to their community. Boost!’s unique model reflects over 18 years of experience in empowering children with a desire to learn and cultivating their academic skills and confidence.

Some key elements of their approach include: after-school learning opportunities; providing caring, consistent adult mentors; strengthening parents’ ability to help their children learn; and leading activities that promote curiosity, discovery, and problem solving.

Students tend to look forward to their session every week and are often amazed at the progress they make.

One tutor/mentor described a special day with her student who had been struggling with both academics and low self-confidence, “One day, after months of practice, my student read an entire book aloud by herself. When she was finished, she triumphantly said, ‘I am smart! I am smart!’ I’d been telling her all along that she was smart, but for the first time ever, she really believed it.”

In a case study with former Boost! students, they vividly described the myriad of ways that tutoring and mentoring have positively impacted their lives. Collectively, they described the different academic influences of the program – such as class performance, grades, rigorous academic challenges and preparedness for college acceptance.

However, the development of academic skills appears to be only one level of impact as students voiced profound influences their tutors have had on embedded social and personal levels as well.

Students pointed to these specific areas of impact:

• Academic skills – Improved reading (e.g., vocabulary development,
comprehension, fluency), writing (e.g., writing conventions, developing ideas,
writing across genres), oral language development and math skills (e.g., Algebra
functions, number facts, problem solving)

• Attitudes towards learning – Increased motivation to learn and try new things,
connection of learning to personal lives, ability to fight marginalization and sense
of responsibility for one’s learning.

• Sense of self – Developing coping skills, self-confidence and independence.

• Life options – Exploring career options, college preparation and life balance. A deeper look into how these roles shift over time provides insight into how and why
Boost! relationships seem to persist over the course of students’ academic lives and into
early adulthood.

The study showed that mentors described the early stages of their interactions as focused on building trust, getting to know one another and establishing a safe and caring environment. Tutors quickly became advocates for students in a variety of ways, such as ensuring resources – whether they be fiscal, transportation, or socially and emotionally related – were obtained as needed.

As one Boost! graduate (now a university student) said, “School always seemed like a big escape for me from everything else that was going on at home and in the world. School was like the haven, the sanctuary. I wanted to excel, but if you don’t really have the tools to do it there’s only so far you can go. Boost! gave me the tools I needed.”

Mentors not only embed learning within study sessions targeted to students’ styles of learning, but also extend the learning environment to the larger cultural community. They create and facilitate opportunities for students to demonstrate their talents, earn respect, challenge marginalization and express their individuality.

Many students and mentors overcome several challenges to a sustainable relationship, such as time, geographic distance, adolescence, or increasingly difficult school subjects.

Although there are numerous moments of joy and celebration throughout the program, Boost! is not a one way street when it comes to the enrichment of students.

Mentors have just as much to benefit from their mentees, if not more. Boost! students teach their mentors all about perseverance, frustration, courage, the struggles and joys of life and so much more. Mentors get to know their community on a more personal level, often meeting and interacting with their mentee’s family. Boost! allows for growth and development for both parties involved in the mentoring/tutoring program.


Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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