Milwaukee Mentoring Program Benefits Counselors as Well as Students

Published September 19, 2015

The Summit Educational Association (SEA) mentoring program, which recently celebrated its 25th year, has helped thousands of students, but the counselors say they feel they’ve gained as much as the students they mentor.

SEA is a nonprofit corporation located in the heart of the city’s Hispanic community and works with urban Milwaukee families. The goal of SEA is to help students academically while it helps to build character through mentoring, tutoring, and recreational activities.

Lupe Serna, an 18-year-old counselor at Summit, plans to study education at Marquette University. She attended Summit herself from 3rd through 8th grades and was a junior counselor at Summit before becoming a counselor this year.

“As a counselor, you go through all the lesson planning, you think about each girl individually, and you really try to help them all to reach their goals,” said Serna. “I love Summit. That’s why I keep coming back. I really love that they give you the attention that you deserve.” 

Finding Positive Role Models

Counselor Nashali De Leon, 18, says she discovered a deep desire to help others through the counseling she has done at SEA. She plans to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison and study communications and speech pathology.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot of very positive role models,” De Leon said. “I know from experience how looking up to the wrong people can have a negative effect. 

I wanted to be that person that could help that, that could give them a good example to follow. 

“A lot of these kids, I ask, ‘Who do you look up to?’ and most of the answers I get are people who aren’t a very positive influence,” De Leon said. “Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj. Working as a junior counselor made me realize I enjoyed working with children very much and the career path I wanted to go into would involve children. It made me realize I could be a good role model with children, [and] that I could actually show them how to work hard in school, how to be honest, [and] how to show respect.” 

Former Mentees Become Mentors

Counselor Alondra Garcia, 18, intends to attend Cardinal Stritch University and major in elementary education and minor in psychology. Garcia attended SEA herself in the 6th and 8th grades.

“I have one girl on my team right now,” said Garcia. “She was a really shy girl, [and] she came in thinking she couldn’t make any friends,” said Garcia. “You don’t need to feel like that. Everyone accepts you for who you are here. I teach my team [not to] judge anyone. You don’t get to judge. She’s become so much more open. She’s grown so much.”

Garcia says she knew she wanted to study education because of the positive influence her experience as a SEA mentor showed her she could have.

“I like to see the kids’ eyes sparkle when they get an answer,” Garcia said. “I tell them to never underestimate someone. Never give up. Life is not easy; you just have to work for it. I’m just so grateful Summit has grown so much and turned into what it is today.”

Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by Summit Educational Association.