Wed 27 Oct 21
An inspirational University of Essex scheme which saw students mentor struggling teenagers through the COVID-19 pandemic will continue this year.
The pilot scheme connected 45 youngsters aged between 13 and 14 with undergraduates to fight digital poverty and social isolation during the nation’s tough lockdowns.
As concerns over attainment mounted the University’s Outreach Team established a five-week e-mentoring programme for Year 9 students in need of academic, emotional, and informational support.
Teachers nominated pupils and they used technology to connect with their mentors for weekly one-hour sessions via Unibuddy - a moderated instant chat app.
Programme co-ordinators, Sarah Kelleway and Ashleigh Poole, recruited 13 mentors who wanted to motivate young people to become ambitious, confident, and focused.
Ashleigh, one of the University’s Outreach Officer, said: “I am so proud of our mentors and what they achieved during this incredibly tough time, it really shows how much the University of Essex is at the heart of the community.
“Rather than just thinking of themselves they rose to the occasion and helped teenagers isolated by the closure of the schools who could’ve been left behind.
“It is a measure of their character that the scheme will be extended, and I urge any students or schools to get in touch so we can continue this vital work.”
Teachers reported an instant upswing with their students reporting an increase in career focus and one child volunteering to speak in front of 320 other students for the first time.
The pupils from schools around Essex were paired with their mentors through matching characteristics, backgrounds, subject interests, and hobbies.
The Chase High School, in Westcliff-on-Sea, The Gilberd School, in Colchester and Jo Richardson Community School, in Dagenham, were among the schools that took part.
And both the mentors and mentees were given progress logs to keep track of their conversations and any goals to work towards each week.
Feedback showed that all the pupils who took part felt an increase in their confidence levels when talking to adults and young people.
Incredibly 85 per cent of students reported that they felt more motivated to do well at school and had more knowledge about what they could do in the future, and 70 per cent of students said they were more likely to apply for higher education after completing the mentoring programme.
A student wrote to the team to express their gratitude, saying, “this project has really helped with setting goals for my future” and “my mentor helped me to become more confident and work harder”.
The mentors also described a huge increase in their passion for helping others with 61 per cent noticing a rise in their own confidence levels, whilst all of them agreed it was a great role to add to their CV.
One said: “It was a very eye-opening experience and very rewarding to be able to help them navigate this time in their lives.”
Now students are being urged to enrol and become an Outreach Mentor.
Similarly, if you are a schoolteacher looking for learning opportunities for your students, head to the Schools and Colleges webpages to browse our upcoming events and activities.