When The Student Becomes the Teacher: Fellows Lead School-Based Projects

October 14, 2019; By Jasmine E. Crenshaw

Students across Alabama have been back in their classrooms already for a month, yearning to learn and do more this school year. Luckily, Jason Perry and Edgar Soto, two members of our current Fellow class, are partnering with some of these tenacious students for their year-long service projects. 

A second-year graduate student in the Masters in Counseling program at the University of Montevallo, Jason is focusing on the development of a mentoring program for male students currently attending George Washington Carver High School in Birmingham. Within his mentoring program, he covers topics, including community, financial literacy, self-image, and overall health,  among this student group. By the end of Jason’s “Birmingham Fellows” program, his students will be designing and executing their own group service project. 

Edgar, along with his Fellowship partner, Rachel Tindal, is constructing a year-round college preparation program with junior and senior Huffman High School students, in partnership with the Birmingham Education Foundation. Both students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, Edgar and Rachel are providing enrichment services, including test preparation, writing assistance, and personalized college advising, to these students.

Jason’s motivation for his project comes from his passion for working with youth; he believes that “serving the generations to come is making an investment in those who hold the key to creating a better future”. Reflecting on the rapid change in available technology and educational tools, Jason is eager to develop resources for youth through partnerships and communities in order for them to keep up with those changes. Ultimately, Jason wants to be “an inspiration to students to push through adversity, reach for the stars, and have the confidence to know [that] they belong”. Jason’s site mentor, David Dada, Deputy Director in the Mayor’s Office Division of Youth Services, shares a similar goal for his project. “Our goal is that the students will walk away from this experience with a greater understanding of their unique skill sets and opportunities and how they can maximize those to lead purposeful lives. We also desire for them to know that individuals like Jason and the rest of our team here at DYS are eager to assist them in any way that we can”, said Dada. 

Edgar’s high school English teacher is his main source of inspiration behind his and Rachel’s service project. He discussed how involved his teacher was during his college preparation process, including leading him to his now love of science and medicine. He believes that “providing other students with similar opportunities to explore their identities and individualized advising will lead them to success”, something he experienced because of his English teacher.

Jason wants his mentees to walk away from their experience with a sense of confidence to conquer goals and with increased leadership abilities, including the ability to take initiative on projects. He also wishes for his students to gain an understanding of the rewards associated with community service, a similar lesson he has already learned during his Fellow year and from previous service work. He believes his students will develop problem-solving skills and be shown the “power of giving” through the completion of their project. 

Edgar wants their students to not only “dream big”, but to develop plans to accomplish their post-high school goals. Additionally, Edgar wants his students to achieve the skills of self-advocacy and building effective support systems to complete their goals. “Edgar and Rachel are a valuable asset to the students that they serve,” said Carolyn Williams, Alumni Relations Manager for the Birmingham Education Foundation. “They spend countless hours connecting students to their true potential and providing them with skills and resources to achieve their maximum potential. The best part for me is to see the students sit down and think about their short and long- term goals, to then map out the process of getting there and realize that it’s actually something that they can achieve. That’s the goal of everything that we do and seeing those moments makes it all worth it.”

When asked about advice for students in the midst of their school year, Jason had the following advice: “Talk, walk, and serve with purpose. Be proud of who you are, love yourself, love your neighbor, and find your passion. Set goals and achieve them. Be confident in who you are but strive every day to get to who you want to be. Know that you are loved and that people are here to support you and want to see you succeed.”

Every student has goals for their first 100 days of school, and our Fellows are no different with their projects. Jason’s main goal for his project’s first 100 days is to develop trust and rapport with his students. He wants his mentees to feel comfortable enough to confide in him and with each other with any issue or concern that may arise. Edgar and Rachel have just finished recruiting their junior and senior student cohorts at Huffman for the year, and have set goals for both groups. During this fall semester, the juniors should begin to explore their post-high school options and the seniors should be “identifying goals for themselves”. 

Both Jason and Edgar can apply lessons learned from their projects to their classroom and life experiences and vice versa. Being a second-year counseling student, Jason is excited to apply classroom concepts, including nonverbal and verbal skills, with his mentoring group. Ultimately, he wants to “create a safe environment” where students are wholly supported. Edgar believes that his project helps him to become more rooted and grounded in the city of Birmingham, where he both attends medical school and works with the students at Huffman. 
Donations for Jason and Edgar’s projects can be made here.