A middle school-collegiate mentoring partnership that benefits everyone
CAMP Osprey builds from the framework that has been implemented at other university settings (University of Florida – CAMP Gator and North Carolina State – CAMP Pack), where more than 1,500 student mentors and mentees have been positively impacted. The experiential activities embedded within the program immerse the middle school student mentees in new opportunities in academics, athletics, and personal development and may serve as a model for decreasing negative behaviors.
CAMP Hits the Court
The UNF women’s tennis team has been working with local Lake Shore Middle School, a high-poverty (70% of students receive free and reduced lunch), high-needs school (D School Grade, 2016 Florida Department of Education) in Northwest Jacksonville. The school was selected based on its relationship as a partner school with the College of Education of Human Services, where university faculty work with teachers to improve instructional practices and student achievement. Lake Shore also showed a clear and consistent commitment to the partnership by assuring CAMP Osprey staff that their students would attend mentoring sessions, transportation would be provided, and that a dedicated staff member would be present to support each session. The fact that Lake Shore was a middle school (grades 6-8) also played a role in the selection process, as previous research showed the greatest gains within the CAMP leadership mentoring model amongst students in this age group.
The initial on-campus event generated by this partnership involved 12 African American female middle school students visiting the tennis complex on UNF’s campus to participate in a tennis skills academy. Prior to students learning how to properly hold a racquet or hit a tennis ball, the middle school students were joined with UNF mentors in a “leadership learning” session based on Covey’s (1991) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the days prior to their visit, the student-athlete mentors received leadership training where they were challenged as individuals as well as teammates to work through The Habits as they would be presenting such content to their mentees. Mentors and mentees made interpersonal connections as they engaged with each other on topics such as public speaking strategies and the developing a personal brand.
Lake Shore Middle School students were then able to return to the UNF campus later in the fall as they attended the tennis team’s final fall event, the “UNF Invite.” This event was a tournament hosted at the UNF Tennis Complex, which included schools such as Troy University, University of South Alabama, Barry University, and Flagler College. At this event, the middle school mentees cheered with joy as their mentors competed, while further learning about the complexities of the game of tennis from the UNF staff. The students then received a tour of UNF’s campus and had lunch in the student union. The day ended in the campus game room where the CAMP Osprey staff along with additional UNF student-athlete volunteers joined the fun.
Going to School
After the second visit to campus the UNF mentors took the opportunity to learn about their mentee’s school and community by spending two separate days in the following weeks at Lake Shore Middle School. The tennis team received another round of leadership training prior to their visits with their mentees. Collegiate mentors were then able to discuss and develop skills with their mentees on how to manage their time, set goals, and develop habits that align with those goals. Additionally, UNF mentors had the opportunity to meet their mentee’s teachers and classmates. This proved to be a profound experience for the UNF women’s tennis team. The majority of the collegiate mentors were from outside the United States including Germany, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and none of the mentors had been in a high poverty, urban school before. Conversely, the UNF women’s tennis team proved to be a perfect fit for the inaugural partnership due to the diverse backgrounds of both mentors and mentees, coupled with the lack of opportunity for participation in the sport of women’s tennis in their Lake Shore Middle School community.
Student Athlete Mentors
Numerous mutually beneficial effects emerged from the partnership between the UNF women’s tennis team and Lake Shore Middle School. Student-athlete mentor reflections conveyed the significance of providing opportunities for personal growth, the ability to make a difference, the value of building relationships, and the importance of understanding the context within which these middle school students reside. Sample testimonials from the UNF mentors include:
This partnership has given me a connection to young girls like no other. I have never been part of anything like this and it feels great to reach out and be part of something bigger. I believe the more time our teams spend with the girls individually, the more impact we will have on their future. I am excited to see them grow into the person they strive to be. I believe in them.
This partnership means a lot to me. I feel like we can really have a positive impact on these girls and their development. I am very excited to be part of their journey. It is important to have people to look up to. We all have them and if we can be that person for someone, that is a great accomplishment and responsibility that I am willing to take on. I can’t wait to build a closer relationship with the girls and get to know them better.
This partnership is very important for me to keep me on track of my dreams. Young girls help me remember where I am coming from and that I have a long path to fulfill. In addition, it gives me power to positively influence someone’s life. The girls let me connect to them in a way that is beneficial for us and I am grateful for this experience.
Lake Shore Middle School Students
The impact on the middle school mentees was significant as well. First, more than 95% of participants would recommend the program to one of their middle school peers. In addition, 100% of all participants felt more supported and more confident in their goals of attending college. Finally, in terms of more immediate goals, the school administration shared that there has been a decrease (5%) in discipline and behavior issues (suspensions, referrals) within the mentee group since they have been involved in the program. Attendance also increased within the mentee group (3%). Discipline and attendance variables such as referrals and suspensions are leading indicators of potential academic, social, and attendance issues and serve as powerful insight into the impact the program started to have on these young ladies.
Conclusions and Implications for Middle Schools
The CAMP Osprey program may function as a replicable template for mutually beneficial partnerships between middle schools and their community partners. The best practices integrated through this endeavor include
- Learning that focuses less on mere knowledge acquisition and more on the development of meaningful relationships and experiential activities
- Established leadership development curriculum that focuses on skills that will help the mentors/mentees succeed now and in the future
- Mutually beneficial goals that extend beyond what is traditionally offered to students (tennis lessons, college campus visits, meeting with college faculty, visiting an urban school, etc.)
- Site visits at all stakeholder organizations to ensure understanding of their relevant contexts and shared appreciation of who the mentors/mentees are
The program continues to expand with new opportunities for middle schools including a STEM-focused partnership between our collegiate students majoring in science serving as mentors to students at a STEM charter middle school in Jacksonville called River City Science Academy. In addition, through the use of videoconferencing technology, the CAMP Osprey mentors are serving as virtual leadership mentors to students in urban districts such as Miami-Dade County Schools (FL) and rural students in Putnam County (FL) and Milford ISD (TX). The hope is to equip middle school students throughout the nation with the skills, support, and opportunities to eventually attend college and serve as the next generation of collegiate mentors.