In late September, the Librería Martinez de Chapman University (LMdeCU) Teen Mentoring Program added a new element to its role in supporting high school youth in Santa Ana. In partnership with the Orange County Congregation Community Organization, the LMdeCU Mentoring Program worked with nine mentees from Santa Ana High School during the summer to plan and implement a student-led conference focusing on issues that mattered to them. The students zeroed in on school climate, leadership, and Restorative Justice as avenues to increase students’ confidence and positively impact their school community.

The leadership workshop offered tangible ways in which high school students could develop leadership skills around goal-setting, challenging their comfort zone, assuming leadership positions in extracurricular activities, and developing meaningful relationships. The main “take-away” was the importance of working on one’s personal development in order to better school climate.

The second workshop discussed Restorative Justice practices as an alternative to zero-tolerance policies at their school. Holding Restorative Justice Circles (RJ Circles) after an incident to address the underlying reasons a student acted out (instead of simply suspending them) was discussed as more effective and supportive of a positive school climate.

The Santa Ana High School students put a lot of time and effort into the conference over the summer months, which resulted in a truly amazing event. Santa Ana High School Principal, Jeff Bishop, was so impressed with their work that he asked them to present their workshops at two school assemblies!

Anaida Colon-Muniz, Associate Professor and Director of Community Education Programs at the LMdeCU, had this to say about the conference: “The students were so brave, confident, and very well prepared. I loved the interaction with the audience and the clear points they presented in their visuals.”

What was most impressive, however, was how much the students grew during their experience planning the conference. The students grew exponentially in their research efficacy, public speaking, and confidence in themselves and their own capabilities. One student whose voice originally shook every time he spoke, ended up delivering his part in the Leadership Workshop with poise, eloquence, and confidence – no shaking or note cards needed! The students’ growth truly reflected not only the success of the LMdeCU Mentoring Program, but the amazing feats youth can achieve when given support, resources, and a voice.  Justin Koppelman, Assistant Director for Civic Engagement Initiatives, is excited by the new effort: “It’s wonderful to see the students’ voice being engaged so intentionally and in a way that continues to shape the mentoring program in a way that matters to both Santa Ana High School and its students.”

The Librería Martinez de Chapman University Teen Mentoring Program (LMdeCU Mentoring Program) is in its third year and is supported by the College of Educational Studies, Civic Engagement Initiatives, and Santa Ana High School. The program engages aspiring youth in this neighboring community and offers guidance, social support, and college and career preparation. The program is coordinated by two AmeriCorps VISTAs working with Civic Engagement Initiatives, Susanna Creed and Justin Villaseñor. The program has grown from an initial 8 Chapman mentors, 8 Santa Ana High School students, and weekly meetings on Tuesdays to engage 17 Chapman mentors, 25 Santa Ana High School mentees, and weekly meetings on both Tuesdays and Thursdays.