During Jaelyn* and her professional mentor Alex’s second school year together, Alex found out from Jaelyn’s teacher that she wasn’t completing her weekly work packet – a packet provided by the teacher not to be graded, but to offer students additional learning tools. Jaelyn, a second-grader, had not mentioned the packet because she doesn’t like math. Alex, who plans every outing with an intentional goal in mind, began prioritizing this work packet during their outings together.
At first, the packet took Jaelyn three hours in the library to finish. Math problems were especially challenging and stressful. Alex realized that it wasn’t a lack of motivation keeping Jaelyn from doing her work; it was a combination of a lack of understanding and a lack of accountability that led Jaelyn to feel stuck.
With Jaelyn’s input, Alex created an incentive plan to encourage Jaelyn to be proactive with her work packet. Every week, if she completed a certain amount of the packet prior to her outing with Alex, she would get to pick a treat and snack and Alex would plan a fun activity. By the end of the school year, she was hopping in the car with the whole packet already done. She saw that the tangible reward for finishing her work was having time to do fun activities with Alex.
This plan introduced some accountability, but Jaelyn still needed emotional tools to work through assignments that left her confused and feeling behind. She didn’t want to admit that she was crying because she was confused. Asking for help was scary. Alex emphasized that voicing why we’re upset is important. With Alex’s support, Jaelyn began to recognize signs in her body, indicating that she was getting upset and learned to identify how to calm herself down when she needed a break.
Alex’s time spent in class with Jaelyn was integral to this learning process of regulating emotions. Alex was able to share the incentive plan and Jaelyn’s coping strategies with her teacher. They established what taking a break might look like in class and created a hand signal for Jaelyn to use. Then, when math problems started to feel overwhelming, Jaelyn could signal her teacher, spend a few minutes in the “calm-down corner” and use a stress ball with the teacher’s permission.
This year, Jaelyn herself has advocated for Alex to join her in class. She values the importance of a professional mentor’s presence in helping her process stress and holds herself accountable. Expressing this to her teacher shows huge growth in her communication abilities. With the consistency and support of a professional mentor in class, Jaelyn will continue to improve her self-management, both emotionally and academically.
*Youth's name changed to protect their identity