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Listen in: ELEVATE Orlando at Jones High School is more than just a mentorship program. It's family.

Sanai Toney and Deirdra Smith. Photo: Danielle Prieur
Sanai Toney and Deirdra Smith. Photo: Danielle Prieur

January is National Mentorship Month. 

According to the White House’s Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs, student mentorship helps reduce recidivism and improves mental and emotional well being. 

WMFE met with Jones High School teacher Deirdra Smith and her mentee Sanai Toney who are part of ELEVATE Orlando’s mentorship program.

Interview highlights:

On what makes ELEVATE Orlando unique

"So we teach an accredited class during the day, kids can take us as an elective and actually get a grade. And there is an entire curriculum that follows Common Core standards. So they get to learn these principles in a classroom setting and learn life skills in a classroom setting, and then have access to mentors, outside of the classroom, 365 days a year, like literally 24/7, they can reach out to us at any time."

On letting students define their own career goals

"And we will be going to the healthcare field, and she would say, 'oh, I want to go, I think I might be interested in that.' And then we do a hospitality internship. And she'd go, 'oh, I might be interested in that,' you know, so I love seeing, like, how excited she was about the different career fields, and just seeing her really be in that phase of like, 'wow, like, I have a lot of interests.' I just don't know exactly which one, but she was really open to exploring."

On the academic and emotional success students find in the program

"Without ELEVATE? I feel like I wouldn't be in the same place now. Because ELEVATE has helped me stay on track, academically and emotionally [...] It's given me a place where if I ever feel like the weight of the world is too much, I can just come to one of them and talk."

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.