Peers key to YESS Institute
When Fatuma Mohamed was a sophomore at North High School, she was struggling big time. Ditching classes, ignoring homework, considering dropping out altogether. ¶ “I had really bad grades,” the 17-year-old said. “I didn’t think school was important.”
Then, the principal routed her into the YESS Institute‘s peermentoring program at the school. She was assigned a mentor, a North senior headed for graduation and more.
“She changed my life,” Mohamed said. “I want to change someone’s life, too.”
The YESS Institute — short for Youth Empowerment Support Services Institute — has been partnering with Denver area schools since 2003, using peer mentorship to increase school connectedness, academic achievement, social-emotional development, healthy choices, leadership skills and post-secondary success.
Peers are the No.1 influence on adolescents, executive director and co-founder Carlo Kriekels said.
“Adolescents take the behavior of the cohort they belong to,” Kriekels said. “Why not use the positive peers inside the school and make them role models? There might be fabulous adult role models in the school, but because of adolescent development, they are not as influential.”
Through YESS’ drop-out prevention program, successful, graduation-bound high school upperclassmen are paired with underclassmen who are underperforming and at-risk of failure. The program, which started as a pilot at Abraham Lincoln High School, will serve 350 students at four area high schools this school year. Another 400 middle school students also participating in YESS peer mentorship in Westminster Public Schools. It is one of about 50 local agencies receiving funds from this year’s Season to Share campaign.
Mohamed said when she was struggling, her mentor helped her get her grades up, even going with her to talk to her other teachers and gather the work she needed to complete.
Now a senior, Mohamed hopes to attend Community College of Denver and then transfer to Metropolitan State University of Denver to study photography. She’s also giving back — a YESS mentee turned mentor.
“(My mentor) asked me why didn’t I change? She said you could go to college, you could have a better life,” Mohamed said. “I really thought about what she said to me. She said she was like that, too.”
Fifteen-year-old Mary Getachew, right, laughs with her mentor, Sabrin Mohamed, 18, as the two take part in YESS Institute class at North High School.