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In the latest in a series of blogs sharing some of the key conversations we’re having at ReachOut, Project Manager Jess Morgan shares why she has a problem with the idea that youth projects are in the business of raising young people’s aspirations.
For me, I don’t think it’s right when adults talk about raising young people’s aspirations. It implies that young people are lacking in ambition which, in my experience, could not be further from the truth.
If you come to one of our mentoring projects, it won’t take you long to see that the young people we work with have huge ambition for their futures.
Chef, astronaut, entrepreneur, musician, teacher- the young people I work with want to do brilliant and exciting things with their lives.
They don’t need us, or anyone else, to tell them to dream big. They don’t need us to raise their aspirations.
Instead, I believe the right focus for us as supportive adults should be how we help young people realise and achieve those ambitions. How do we give them the tools and networks they need to go on and live good, happy and successful lives on their own terms?
Here are three ways in which ReachOut does this:
1) Visiting inspiring workplaces
Through our Workplace Experience Visit programme, we partner with a range of different businesses, aiming to introduce the idea of a workplace, different sectors and specific roles to our mentees.
These visits give young people an insight into a variety of different careers including the boardrooms of investment companies, behind the scenes at hotels and restaurants, art galleries, university lecture theatres and looking after animals on the farm.
For some mentees, this could help give them ideas about what their future could look like or, just as usefully, confirm what they don’t want to do.
After a recent trip to Manchester Metropolitan University, for example, one of our Project Officers told me that his group have been really thinking about their future careers and asking more questions to their mentors about how they could get there.
2) Showing real and relatable journeys
Our mentors often act as additional role-models for the young people they work with. That’s why we ask them to do ‘mentors shares’ – presentations in front of the whole group, looking at their lives and careers.
Crucially, these mentor shares show the ups and downs of how the mentors got to where they are – the bumps and twists in the road that don’t always make it into job adverts or recruitment brochures.
There’s often so much pressure on young people to do specific things in a specific way, and have everything planned out. Our mentor shares give them the confidence to know that everyone can chart their own path. It’s a real life look at what it means to set out and find your way.
3) Practice setting achievable goals
Another focus of our mentoring projects is goal setting. Working with their mentors, the young people have the opportunity to practice setting goals in a safe environment, working out what steps they want to take to make a change.
In a project I visited recently, some of the goals set by mentees included achieving better attendance, reading a chapter of a book every day, and being confident enough to contribute to group discussions.
The point of this is to get them used to setting goals, understanding how to work towards them and feeling confident in their ability to achieve them. As those goals become bigger as the mentees get older, they have the experience and the tools to take things step by step and not feel overwhelmed.
Why does all this matter?
Through all of this, our aim is to try and level the playfield, making sure that the young people we work with have the same doors open to them as anyone else.
All of this can be perfectly summed up by Boma, a former mentee and a member of our alumni community.
“We all know that children from well-off backgrounds benefit from better opportunities,” he told us when we spoke to him recently. “They generally have access to more extra-curricular programmes, as well as access to a wide range of people beyond their parents and teachers who can mentor and guide them. For me and my friends who took part in ReachOut, it helped to level the playing field, providing us with those same opportunities.”
“At first, I was really hesitant to take on the Project Leader role, despite having mentored with ReachOut. However, with the support of the team I’ve really developed my skills. For example, at the Mentee Graduation, I stood up in front of 200 people and presented an award which is something I would never ever have been able to have done before, and isn’t an opportunity I could gain in my other situations.”
Amy McCutcheon, Project Leader at ReachOut Academy, Dean Trust Ardwick, Manchester.
“Being able to spend the summer working at Rede Partners, was an amazing experience. Whether it was working in HR or Finance, I learned so much about the world of private equity, made great connections with fantastic people and I got to learn first-hand what it would be like to work there! I really believe that I can go onto build the career I want now I’ve been a part for a workplace for real”
Victor Adekunle, 18 years old, ReachOut Ambassador, London
“When I first my mentee, she was very reluctant to participate in the sessions. Now, I see a completely different person! Her confidence has grown and she is happy to join in! She still has some self-doubt when it comes to academic work, but that’s what I hope to help her overcome, because she is a very bright person!
Through mentoring, I’ve learnt I’m a lot more patient than I realised. There will be days where she refuses to participate and those are the days that I really see the importance of the character strengths, for both the mentees and the mentors. It also makes it easier for the mentee to understand the character strengths, when I use them myself”
Myrtle, ReachOut Club mentor at Tufnell Primary School, London
“There are more distractions than ever outside of school, and the commitment of our students to attend ReachOut sessions is testament to the value they place on the relationships they foster there, and the challenge and enjoyment they provide.
ReachOut’s focus on communication skills and character development has become an important aspect of our provision of support for these students. The opportunity to relate to a positive role- model other than their usual teachers is key to the programme’s impact, and the evidence of this has been seen in the students’ attendance, resilience and to their overall progress across all the subjects in the school.”
Thomas Janvrin, Assistant Vice Principal at the Petchey Academy London