MENTORING : iTrack school students participating in the online mentoring program.
MENTORING : iTrack school students participating in the online mentoring program. Marnya Rothe

Inter-generational experience through iTrack mentoring

RETIRING from your workplace doesn't mean that you have to put your skills and knowledge away in a drawer when they can be used to benefit a younger generation.

For the last year 67-year-old Howard*, who still works full time in manufacturing, has volunteered with The Smith Family in its national iTrack program.

Howard left school with little idea of what career he wanted. While doing a part-time technical college degree he met a man, John, who encouraged Howard to study a higher degree. He qualified for university and went on to complete a degree.

"It was my encounter with John that steered me into my career path,” Howard said.

"Not all kids are lucky enough to have a mentor like John that stimulate and inspire them.

"That's why I took on the iTrack mentoring role. I got help in my career and it was invaluable.”

The Smith Family welcomes retirees, and seniors still working, who want to connect with and mentor high school students. It has found mentoring is an effective way to engage with youth who may not have positive role models.

The volunteer relationship manager April Economou explained iTrack is an online mentoring program which works with high school students from disadvantaged communities and families, supporting them through their schooling.

"iTrack pairs a high school student in a low socio-economic school with a mentor who is able to offer guidance and support about career options available to them, or post-school planning,” Ms Economou said.

  • The program is run online via a keyboard conversation.
  • It's anonymous with the mentor and mentee knowing only each other's first name, and each other's interests and hobbies.
  • New mentors are provided with training.
  • Mentors talk to a student for about 60 minutes, on the same day each week during supervised school hours, for an 18-week period. The program runs twice a year, from May to September, and July to November.

The type of mentors they are looking for are people -

  • With life and work experiences which they want to share with students to help inform their decisions.
  • That can empower the student to find their own way and guide them towards available resources.
  • The student will provide the iTrack team details of what interests and hobbies they have, and if they have a gender preference for their mentor so that the team can find a suitable mentor.

"We really want someone who can help a student explore a variety of pathways,” Ms Economou said.

For some of the mentors, it's a way to gain an insight into the teenage world so that they can develop an understanding of how the generation is thinking, and then apply that knowledge to the relationship with their grandchildren.

"It's sharpened my listening skills,” Howard said of his experience.

He has also found the students have "an amazing thirst and interest in what is out there”.

"It's been a really strong, two-way interaction. The proof of that is when we finish after so many weeks, we exchange cards and I find in reading the card the student seems so grateful,” Howard added.

No matter what a person's work experience is, Howard advises, "The right person can bring a lot of experience to a young person”.

For the students, the mentors are seen as an unbiased, listening adult, who is willing to give the student a dedicated hour per week to listen to them, to give them encouragement and advice about education and career options.

"And, to give the students a pat on the back, talk to them about their school work and assignments,” Ms Economou said.

"It's a way in which they can have a two-way conversation outside of the parent and teacher realm.”

What students want out of the experience is unique to each of them. Some want career advice, or job options, while others might want to talk about their school day or friendship issues, study challenges, or exam worries.

"We want student outcomes to be positive and enhance their knowledge and their confidence. We also want our mentors to have a positive experience and give back to the community.” Ms Economou added.

In 2017 there are 1500 students across all states and in the ACT.

For more details on iTrack volunteering, go to https://www.thesmithfamily.com.au/programs/mentoring/itrack.

*Howard chose to keep his full name confidential.


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