By Rozalia Rzepka ’18 (Radwanice, Poland / Tipton, IN)
It was only after finishing the FLEX Alumni Poland Mentoring Program as mentees that Martyna Olkiewicz ’20 (Ostrow Wielkopolski, Poland / Joshua, TX) and Mateusz Szostek ’20 (Konczyce Male, Poland / Seguin, TX) came up with the idea to create their own youth mentoring program for teenagers ages 14 to 17.
Martyna and Mateusz were amazed by the journey they took with their mentors during the mentoring program, which was organized by the FLEX Alumni Program and the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. Participating in the program allowed them to grow, to gain new skills, and to gain knowledge that could translate to their future education and careers.
Martyna and Mateusz realized that there was no such program in Poland where pre-high school youth could be involved. They decided to change that, and together with their friends they created the mentoring program TeenCademy, putting a huge emphasis on personal growth and participation in various scholarship programs, youth conferences, and projects.
“After experiencing socio-economic difficulties, lacking external help, observing the poor quality of education ourselves and facing the problem of information asymmetry on the educational and developmental level, we felt we had enough prospects to fight against these issues,” Mateusz said.
TeenCademy’s mission is to inspire Polish youth to seek their personal development both within the school curriculum and beyond, to equalize opportunities by reaching the most disadvantaged teenagers who live in rural areas or suffer from economic exclusion.
TeenCademy is a six-month mentoring program based online, during which one university student or senior high school student with valuable life experience, such as winning an Olympiad, going to school abroad, or being admitted to a foreign university, is connected with a younger student just starting high school and in search of guidance and mentorship on further development.
After this year’s recruitment process, which consisted of four short essay questions, 15 mentees were admitted and paired with 15 mentors. Mentoring pairs were matched based on the competencies and plans for the future of both sides (e.g. so that a young aspiring humanist can learn from the winner of the Olympiad in Polish Literature and Language, and the future chemist from a student of this field studying at Cambridge). The mentee-mentor pair determines the form and frequency of contact, although the program requirement is to meet for at least one hour each month.
“The mentoring pairs started working on their own in December and so far all the pairs are doing great,” Mateusz said. “We as the board put a huge effort into making sure that all the mentoring pairs are satisfied with their match, which is why we created feedback forms through which we collect monthly reports from mentees and mentors individually.”
In addition to the one-on-one meetings, the program also includes three online conferences, providing time for mentors and mentees to network, exchange experiences, and develop career development tools and resources to accomplish their goals during monthly self-development workshops.
To conduct workshops, TeenCademy invites special guests and experts in the field of education and business. Last month, they cooperated with the Akademia Retoryki, an Academy of Rhetoric that conducts many workshops for youth, but also for adults, teaching others how to speak and listen effectively. Akademia Retoryki helped TeenCademy organize a three-hour public speaking workshop. Participants talked about diction, having active contact with the public, communicating effectively, and overcoming stage fright.
In March, TeenCademy plans to organize a networking event with mentees and mentors in cooperation with the Open Coffee Youth, an international organization whose primary goal is to spread the culture of networking among youth around the world, allowing young people to support, learn from, and inspire each other.
“We managed to create a friendly, informal environment in the program, as we believe it is the good atmosphere and trust that guarantees a great mentoring journey,” Martyna said. “It seems like all the mentees are content with their match and claim to have experienced so much personal growth already. We, as the TeenCademy team, ensure that our students, within six months of mentoring, develop an action plan for the coming school year and find sources and motivation to start fulfilling it. We have four more months ahead of us, and we are so excited for them.”