Proud to be a SUCCESS MENTOR!

So much of being a mentor is just being there for somebody.

Last month, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley kicked off year two of our Success Mentors program at Lawrence High School.  In the words of our Chief Executive Officer Liz Sweeney… “What can be said about people who volunteer, other than THANK YOU.”  One of the many volunteers we would like to thank is 9th grade Biology teacher Maria (Maya) Jarostchuk (pictured here with her mentee sophmore Surenisha Velasquez).  Maya is back for her second year serving as Surenisha’s mentor.  The mutual respect the two share is remarkable and so inspiring!  Maya recently took the time out of her busy schedule to share her personal experience as a Success Mentor in the form of the following essay.  Thank you Maya!  To learn more about Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s mentoring programs, please visit…

All first year teachers would agree that none of us had any idea what we were doing. We spent the first year in a never-ending mess of lesson plans, behavior systems, grading, parent communication. At the end of most days, we would find ourselves home past dinner time, laying on the floor in the fetal position and eating large amounts of ice cream in order to cope with the stresses of first year teaching. We would fall asleep at night, eyes burning from the hours spent on the computer, with our students’ faces popping into our heads. We would wake up to a 5 am alarm, wishing we had a “normal” job where we got to sit at a desk and interact with zero high schoolers all day.

 I am currently in my second year of teaching 9th grade Biology at Lawrence High School, and every day is different. Some days are sweet, others are sour. On these sour days, I leave work with a bitter feeling in my heart, feeling overworked, underappreciated and completely exhausted. During my first year of teaching, I think I left sour most days… I felt like I was drowning in a sea of grading, lesson planning and meetings, all while trying to stand up in the front of 25 9th graders several times a day and be the authoritative figure who would teach these kids Biology. It felt hopeless.

 Looking back to the previous year, it seems crazy that I would sign up to be a Success Mentor as a first year teacher- I had several mentors myself who were helping me be a better teacher, how was I qualified to mentor a student who truly needed my support? I was not meeting the needs of the 100 + students I taught in the classroom, how could I take on the responsibility of keeping yet another a student on track?

What I learned within the first day of becoming a mentor was that being a mentor is completely different from being a teacher. Students come to Lawrence High School guaranteed to have a teacher for every content for every grade, but they are not guaranteed to have a mentor. Our kids need mentors. They absolutely need them. Mentors are more than just a “nice” or “helpful” teacher. A mentor truly invests not just in the student, but also in the person. We often forget that we are teaching people- these people may be young, they may not be perfect, they may not always do their best work or come to class, but they are people nonetheless. Being a mentor has taught me that our students are people who need to be treated as such. School alone is not going to guarantee success for everyone- some people who come (or don’t) to my Biology class need a little extra support and love, and that is where the line from teacher to mentor must be crossed.

I was paired with Surenisha Velasquez. The first day we met, Surenisha sat me down and explained who she was, what was important to her, and what she needed from me. This seemingly quiet young lady had so much to say, so much to worry about, and so much to ask… her grades and attendance were not due to laziness or an unwillingness to work hard, but rather a lot of external challenges that she was facing. Together, we talked about and worked through some of the struggles that she was having- with schoolwork, attendance and friends. It was amazing how quickly Surenisha went from being my assigned mentee to just another part of my life, a part that was different from the stresses of being a teacher. Taking 30 minutes to eat Wendy’s for lunch was not overwhelming, even when I had work to do. Walking Surenisha across campus to her classroom was no problem at all, even if I was tired or in the middle of something. All of a sudden, I had become a mentor, and what I realize now, is that so much of being a mentor is simply being there for another person.

I can take little credit in the change in Surenisha’s grades, attendance and overall attitude towards school. She did the work. She stayed after school and during lunch to redo or complete missing work. She made sure to come to school every day, even on days where she could have skipped. She made sure to walk away from friends, teachers, or students who were frustrating her. All I did was make sure that I was there for her, and by being there, all I did was give her the space within the school where she felt comfortable and cared for. Surenisha worked extremely hard and was able to get her grades up and pass the 9th grade. She is now a happy 10th grader who is so busy and involved that she only has time to come check in with me once in a while, but it is always with a smile and a million things that are going great.

As a mentor, I thought that I would be teaching my mentee. However, I learned so much from mentoring Surenisha.  Life is prickly sometimes, and it can get extremely prickly for a high schooler who is trying to balance school, work, friends, family and everything that comes with being in high school. As teachers, we see the best and the worst sides of students we teach. Some days we see smiles and effort and 10/10 on classwork, other days we see frowns, tardies and 0/10s. What we have to remember is that we are teaching students, but working with real live people. Sometimes we forget that people are allowed to have bad days, weeks, months or even years. We forget that we should treat all people with kindness and respect. We forget that sometimes the people who seem like they don’t want or need love, actually need it the most. We forget all of this, when we as first, second or even tenth year teachers need the same things. I listened to Surenisha, she listened to me. I complained to Surenisha, she complained to me. I gave Surenisha advice, she gave it right back to me. Being a mentor means to have an equal relationship with another person, to help each other learn from one another and support one another through any challenges.

I still have sour days, I still find myself in the fetal position, and I still eat a lot of ice cream in year 2 of teaching. However, becoming a Success Mentor has done nothing but add sweetness to my experience working at Lawrence High School. Being a teacher is important, but being a mentor is equally if not more important. Mentoring Surenisha has helped ground me in why anyone who works with our youth does the work that we do – because we want to be the adults that help these young people grow into the people that will then help the future young people. We want a world where giving someone support, checking in, asking if they are okay is a regular occurrence. I am proud to be a Success Mentor and feel so fortunate to have gotten to build a relationship with such an incredible young lady.


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