15 Oct SET Counselor Gabby Hines on the Value of Mentorship
Editor’s Note: This inspiring opinion piece was written by SET counselor Gabby Hines. It was originally published on 10/8/21 in the San Diego Union Tribune.
Opinion: A mentoring program taught me that after every storm comes a brighter day
Hines is a counselor at the School for Entrepreneurship and Technology and a member of Pillars of the Community, and lives in Skyline.
Like many of my peers who were raised in Southeast San Diego, I felt that teachers could neither relate to nor empathize with the struggles we faced. I was often labeled as a “problem” student by school officials who were unmoved by the responsibilities and insecurities I endured at home. My mother abandoned my brothers and I when we were kids, and my father was addicted to crack. Consequently, I became the designated caretaker for my two little brothers despite my own relative youth.
These day-in and day-out obligations took away from the time I needed to succeed in school. There were periods throughout my K-12 years in which I was either underperforming and/or dropping out. In eighth grade, I was crushed by the realization that I could not participate in promotion because I had failed two classes. I missed my ninth grade year as well, but I was able to make up the missing credits at a local charter school in Southeast San Diego. I eventually enrolled in Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS), thanks to a recommendation made by a cousin. He spoke highly of his experiences there, and emphasized the impact that a Black teacher had on his ability to envision success.
After graduating in 2007, I participated in a support group for first-generation JCCS college students called Summer of Success. This program was led by educators Penny McNeil, Leilah Kirkendoll, Stephanie Johnston and Tammy Reina. Their dedicated efforts and supportive attitudes helped empower the lives of former JCCS youth in and out of the classroom. They recognized that as first-generation college students, we did not have the social connections, support or insider knowledge that more “traditional” students had prior to entering college. They addressed this obstacle by assisting us with our homework, financial aid applications and other higher-ed related obligations and procedures. Additionally, they would take us to different restaurants and expose us to cuisines that we had not seen growing up.
However, this group of educators did more than just assist in academic matters; they actively helped cultivate our psychosocial and emotional growth as well. For example, Tammy Reina was a mentor, role model and mother figure all in one. The impact that her holistic mentorship had on students like me was unparalleled. As a result of her warmth and generosity, my 18th birthday became an experience that I will never forget. For the last 17 years, I had grown accustomed to viewing my birthday as just another date that came and went without gifts or special displays of love from family and peers. In the span of one day, Tammy changed the narrative of what I had come to expect by surprising me with an iPod, a book and a cake she had baked herself.
JCCS educators went out of their way to make sure their students felt acknowledged, validated, supported and loved. These individuals continued to connect with me even after our mentoring program by supporting and encouraging me throughout my college career. I knew that whenever I needed to, I could go to them for anything, be it life advice, homework or emotional support. Their presence in my life gave me the motivation I needed to become the first person in my family to graduate with a master’s degree in education.
The road to this accomplishment was full of personal and school-related obstacles. It took me six years to transfer out of community college and into San Diego State University, where I would earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Despite these hardships, I consider myself to be extremely blessed for the invaluable support I received from individuals like executive director Tracy Thompson. The mentorship I received from JCSS educators helped me secure my employment opportunities. Those opportunities not only strengthened my resume, but also contributed to the discovery of my life’s purpose — education and counseling. As a result of this experience, I was hired by the School for Entrepreneurship and Technology, where I currently work as a school counselor. The youth that I interact with are a constant source of inspiration to me; I still keep in contact with many of my past students, helping them navigate the trials of adulthood.
I believe it is imperative to give back to your community by helping those who came from your circumstances achieve academic and personal success. I thought to myself, what better way to do this than by pursuing a career in education? I hope to inspire others who relate to my background by sharing the experiences that have made me who I am today. Special shout-out to Stephanie Johnston, who helped me enroll in City College, and kept me motivated along the way.
Our youth deserve the second chances and opportunities needed to fully showcase their academic capabilities. The positive benefits of their accomplishments can have a significant impact on their families, society and country at large. In short, educators have the potential to be more than just a facilitator of academic success. They can radically change a student’s life by offering them the kind of support and love that is missing at home.