Nicole Dopson and Jacqueline Valencia exchange emails weekly and get together monthly to share a slice of pizza and talk – just like they did on a recent Tuesday night.
They make a point of keeping in touch, but they’re not old friends. In fact, their friendship started just last fall, shortly after Valencia began high school at South Valley Academy.
Dopson, a 29-year-old financial officer at the University of New Mexico, is Valencia’s new mentor in a program called Mentor 2.0.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central New Mexico started the program at two Albuquerque charter schools – Amy Biehl High School and South Valley Academy.
Under Mentor 2.0, students are matched with adults. They exchange weekly emails and meet at school monthly. Mentors share strategies with students on how to overcome adversity, have healthy relationships and prepare for college.
The intent is for mentors to continue advising students throughout their high school years.
“You learn different skills,” Valencia said. “You learn how to overcome stuff and how to get help.”
Dopson said it’s not just the mentors who help the students. Dopson has two young girls, and she said talking with Valencia has helped her better understand the challenges her children will face in high school.
“I was curious to hear a teenage perspective,” she said.
This is Mentor 2.0’s first year. It has matched 168 mentors with freshmen. Next year, organizers hope to have 345 volunteers, said Sharon Tenorio, chief of marketing and outreach for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Most of the volunteers – 118 – have come from either Sandia National Laboratories or UNM.
Administrators at both of the charter schools said they would also like to see the program expanded.
“This was a thing that when I learned about it, we really jumped at the chance,” said Amy Biehl Principal Mike May.
A key to the program is it doesn’t require too much time from volunteers, said Ted Kriefels, a department manager at Sandia and program volunteer. He is also a longtime board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters who helped start the program.
Kriefels said students are so comfortable with digital communication that they respond well to emails.
He also stressed the efforts the organization has made to keep the mentorship program safe. Mentors undergo background checks, and students and mentors log into a special website to exchange emails that are monitored, Kriefels said.
When mentors and students meet, they do so in a large group at school under the supervision of school officials.
Kriefels said he hopes to see the program grow because it helps students at a time when many start to tune out of school.
“We approach these kids at a crossroads in their life,” he said.