Mentoring During a Pandemic

Serving as a supportive adult to low-income students has never been more needed than now. The COVID-19 pandemic has been disproportionately impacting communities of color. CPE students and their families reside in these communities, and in particular, in Wards of Washington, D.C. that have seen the highest cases of COVID-19 in the district (Wards 5, 7, and 8).

It isn’t only the physical threat to their well-being: students also face the emotional and social challenges brought on by the virus as well. We’ve outlined some effective strategies to support mentors in communicating with their mentees during this crisis.

Provide Emotional Support

Part of mentoring students is to support their social and emotional needs. Here are some ways to help a student if they are feeling overwhelmed by their circumstances:

  • Listen intentionally and validate the information they share
  • Check-in with them on a consistent basis
  • Be a friend, not a parent
  • Show empathy toward their concerns
  • Send them encouraging words

When your mentee responds, listen with compassion. Don’t try to interject, problem-solve, or to share your own feelings, unless they ask. If your mentee doesn’t respond to your outreach, that is okay – they simply might not have the mental energy to do so at that moment. Expressing that you care is what matters most.

Connect Your Mentee to Resources and Empower Them to Seek Support

CPE students have shared that during the pandemic they have had to speak up for themselves. Whether that means requesting to stay on-campus due to lack of other housing options or communicating their needs for learning space at home. During a crisis, young people need to be reminded of their resilience. Model strong problem-solving skills by providing your mentee with resources and encouraging them to research their own. The following are areas that they may need assistance with:

  • Having an honest conversation with family about a need for a dedicated space and time for learning and studying.
  • Email etiquette and suggestions for communicating their need for additional help to their teacher or professor.

Share Tips for Distance Learning

One major change for CPE students is moving from an in-person learning environment to distance learning. Some of them shared a few challenges they faced with this transition including procrastination, lack of motivation, difficulty receiving help, and trouble finding a place to study.

As decisions are still being made on whether students will return to learning in school or remain at-home, there will most likely be a distance learning component in their future. You can help by being their accountability partner. Here are some tips to share with your mentee as they continue to adjust:

  • Take things one day at a time
  • Set weekly goals
  • Create a routine 
  • See if the school has resources for tutoring
  • When taking notes, write down main ideas
  • Consider starting a virtual group chat to study with classmates

In May, CPE held a virtual town hall on the impact of COVID-19 where Councilmember Robert White, the Democratic At-Large Council representative, offered the following advice to our students: “If you can develop a successful routine during a pandemic, then there is nothing in front of you that will be a major challenge.”

Adjusting to this “new normal” has also been difficult for mentors. In light of that, it’s recommended to be transparent as much as you feel comfortable with your mentee.  Be honest with them, as they will value hearing about how things are going for you. Try to find balance between being a guide, friend, coach, and family to your mentee.

The National Mentoring Partnership has tips on staying connected in a time of social distancing. Additionally, if you’re seeking creative ways to spend time with your mentee, consider taking a virtual museum tour. The Smithsonian website has virtual exhibits you can experience with your mentee.

The time CPE mentors invest year-over-year in developing and sustaining relationships with CPE students is invaluable. This work is reflected in the 42 high school graduates and 32 college graduates that CPE was able to celebrate this year alone! It is CPE’s goal to help guide mentors through this social distancing time in creating and sustaining meaningful relationships with their mentees.