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Students Gain Real-World Insight From Mentor Program
Posted 1/30/23

Student with mentor in medical officeFor about 26 years, juniors at Newport Harbor High School (NHHS) have been given the opportunity to connect with a mentor as they explore their future careers. Funded by the Newport Harbor Educational Foundation, the 1:1 Junior Career Mentor Program has grown to include a roster of more than 250 professionals who volunteer to share their experiences in fields ranging from the arts to law enforcement to medical to construction and more. 

“This is an amazing opportunity for students to see what a career is like up close. Their experiences with their mentors can further ignite their passion for something, or it can lead to them discovering a new path in a subject they like,” said Counselor Sara Abdelhadi, who began coordinating the program this year after longtime program director Debbie Brostek retired.

To apply, students must be heading into their junior year at NHHS with a GPA of at least 2.0. In addition to submitting a resume and an essay, they fill out a questionnaire in which they note three career fields they are interested in pursuing. After a vetting process by staff, the program director matches students with mentors in one of those fields. All mentors must be approved through Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s Raptor System, which includes Live Scan fingerprinting and a background check. 

Though it’s not a class, completion of the program qualifies toward the Experiential Learning Project, which is a high school graduation requirement. “It also gives students access to someone who could be a reference for college applications. Even if they don’t choose the same career path, students now have a role model who can offer advice,” said Abdelhadi. 

After hearing about the program from her sophomore-year English teacher, Junior Maya Snowden decided to apply in the hopes of connecting with a mentor who shares her love for writing and could advise her on career options. “Everyone learns the basics in school, but there’s practical knowledge that you can only gain from a mentor,” she said.

Students accepted into the program are given the responsibility of connecting with their mentors and arranging to meet with them at least five times within eight months. After an initial meeting, in which students interview their mentors about their lives and careers, students gain insights into their chosen fields through job shadowing. They also meet with mentors in more casual settings to get a glimpse of their lives outside work, as well as build meaningful relationships. 

“Beyond sharing about my career path and business, I enjoy the big-picture mentoring that happens, more of the life skills coaching and what I wish I’d known about when I was in high school,” said current mentor Carrie Freitas, founder of Kitchen Table Marketing + PR. “The students gain an understanding of what their chosen career could look like, plus some perspective on life from someone else's point of view. That type of exposure can open up new worlds and possibilities for them,” she said.

To complete the program, students write essays reflecting on their mentorship experience. In late March, mentors and mentees will gather on the NHHS campus for the annual Mentor Appreciation Breakfast, during which they are invited to share their experiences. While this is the last official contact between students and mentors, many will stay in touch. As Freitas reported, “I am still in touch with my mentee from 2019 on social media, and she is doing great in college!”