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.”

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Em­i­lie Rusch

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.”

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

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.

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