“Puentes” program bridges parts of Latinx students’ identities, motivates students

Mentoring Mark: Chatting in the hallway, spanish teacher Mark Bauman and junior Sam Isaac meet for their mentoring session. Photo

Leah Desserich

Mentoring Mark: Chatting in the hallway, spanish teacher Mark Bauman and junior Sam Isaac meet for their mentoring session. Photo

Abby McKew, staff writer

Many students at South that need support get it from their school guidance counselor or social worker. The Puentes Mentor Program also supports students, but specifically Latinx students.

South students have various outlets that provide support for their goals, aspirations and hopes for the future. Perhaps a student might visit the Student Services Department for information about options for college, or talk to their classroom teachers for advice and insight into what classes they should take for oncoming years. However, for some South Latinx students, they know without doubt who their outlet for guidance and support is: Puentes Mentoring Program.

Veronica Reyes, co-founder of the Puentes program, explained the need for a program to guide Latinx students through high school.

“As teachers in the Spanish Heritage Learners program, [Gabrielle Mikos and I] noticed a void for some of our Latinx students in regards to mentorship and accessibility to various opportunities South has to offer,” Reyes said. “The first step was a mentor program where our Latinx students could find an adult they could go to with questions, concerns, or help them navigate the resources that are available to them.”

Junior Sam Isaac said that Puentes has shaped her life in many ways, helping her thrive in school and encouraging a sense of maturity and courage when it comes to her academics. With her mentor’s encouragement, Isaac has grown more confident in her abilities as a student at South, Isaac said.

“[Puentes] has helped me mature and really makes me think about my future,” Isaac explained. “I wouldn’t have gotten into an AP class without them.”

One way Puentes helps students is by giving them a trusted adult to help them through the stress of school, Isaac stated. Every semester, each member of the program is assigned a mentor, a teacher at South with whom they meet one-on-one during their SRTs; in these meetings, Issac shared many great memories with her mentors.

“[One of my favorite memories] was my birthday with Miss Suarez,” Isaac said. “I brought in cupcakes and she brought in her other mentee and then we played bingo.”

Students have the opportunity to speak to their individual mentor about any goal they have and they can seek advice from them.

“It could be a social, emotional, academic, community or family goal,” Reyes said. “It’s very much an individualized program. They are just navigating and discussing this goal that they create together.”

Mikos stated that the Puentes Mentor Program is still relatively new and is evolving since its creation. The original mindset was to match one individual mentor with one member, but mentors realized that this would not be possible because of schedule changes.

“We have changed that mindset, to where you could be jumping from mentor to mentor [with] the positive of that being able to have different perspectives,” Mikos said. “With that, we realized that there would be a lot more shifts and we really started focusing on the full program activities.”

Mikos’ favorite aspect of Puentes is being able to see the members of the program grow academically and with their personal goals. Mikos also teaches a two-year Spanish heritage course at South so she can see the growth of many members in the program.

“To see the growth and success of the students and to see how far they’ve come is a really gratifying feeling,” Mikos said. “I have many students who are involved in the program in my heritage class, so it’s been really interesting to see the students evolve, knowing what their goals are seeing that evolve over the course of these two years.”

Junior Emmanuel Sanjuan, a member of the Puentes program, said the program has helped set goals and complete them. For Sanjuan, motivation to complete his personal goals and aspirations comes from his mentors’ help.

“Setting goals for me is pretty hard without having somebody to check on me and see my progress,” Sanjuan said. “Puentes has helped me become a more productive and independent person. I have been working on projects more by myself because then I can report back with something positive.”

For Sanjuan, the support that his mentors give him goes beyond his high school career. The best way Puentes supported Sanjuan was helping him prepare and apply for college, Sanjuan explained.

“My recent mentor let me know what I needed to do to get ready for the ACT and SAT,” Sanjuan said. “She helped me find out when college visits are and what I need to do to get into colleges. Her daughter has already been through this experience and [my mentor] shared this with me and it helped so much getting me ready for college.”