When students from ASU Preparatory Academy cross North 7th Street and walk into APS’s downtown Phoenix headquarters, they’re taking their first steps into the professional world, and APS employees are there to guide the way. Through a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, high school juniors and seniors from the school are matched one-to-one with volunteers from APS through the Beyond School Walls program hosted and funded by APS.
“Rarely do students have an opportunity like this to learn directly from a working professional,” says Naomi Taylor, BBBSAZ program specialist who manages the APS program.
Sienna, age 16, is one of the 23 high school upperclassmen who participate in the Beyond School Walls program. She meets with her Big Sister and mentor, Kim Wagie, two times each month at the APS headquarters, where they, along with the other matches, focus on college and career preparation.
Side by side, students and their mentors engage in hands-on activities that teach students about organizational culture, teamwork, resume writing and interview techniques; yet the real magic of mentoring happens when the students spend one-to-one time with their mentors. The program’s Big Brothers and Big Sisters help their Littles explore college options, assist them with admission and scholarship applications, and tap into their own professional networks to set up opportunities for students to learn more about education and career choices.
“As I work with my Little Sister Sienna on college applications, career planning and interviewing skills, I realize these activities are helping to shape her future,” says Wagie.
Students are learning to build on their strengths and interests, and develop an education and career plan that enables them to realize their potential. Even though the program is focused on planning for the future, many Bigs notice changes in the students immediately.
“These students are building self-confidence, improving their communications skills, and taking leadership roles in the program and at their school,” says Taylor.
Bigs often say they get as much if not more out of being a mentor.
“It is a privilege to play a small role in supporting the development of these young adults’ lives and to foster their growth,” says Wagie.
Brandi Devlin is the senior director of Marketing at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona.