The Value of a Mentor

By Stephanie Hood

Gifted students need mentors. An illustration of such a relationship came to me recently in an email from 17-year-old Hannah Noelle Sharp, describing her mentor Wes Beach, Director of Beach High School. For over thirty years Wes Beach, recipient of the 2005 CAG Distinguished Service Award for Santa Lucia region, has served the needs of gifted learners who choose to pursue their education down nontraditional paths. Among his students is Hannah Sharp who writes:

Much like the shearwater in the logo for Beach High School, I am free to go wherever I want with my life. I owe a great portion of that sense of autonomy to Wes Beach himself. No other person outside my parents has provided me as much well-thought-out guidance, gentle encouragement, and unwavering faith in my abilities. Wes has helped me understand it is “okay” to be gifted, that I need not hide who I am and what I can do. I sincerely wish every other gifted kid had access to Wes’ bountiful knowledge about, and compassion for, the challenges that come with giftedness.

In addition to providing support and instilling confidence, a mentor models who we want to become. “ One of the best things about having known Wes throughout these years is that we talk, exploring all sorts of subjects in great depth. Every time we do so, Wes challenges me with complex and novel ideas to consider, reminds me to remain open-minded, provides me other choices upon which to reflect, and, without exception, treats me as someone with whom he actually enjoys conversation, not merely as a 17-year-old student.”

Wes’s involvement with Gifted and Talented Education began in his own home. As the father of a profoundly gifted son, he saw first-hand that the public school system is often unable or unwilling to make the academic adjustments that some gifted students require in order to thrive. During his ten years as GATE program coordinator at Soquel High School, Wes developed an innovative program which enabled gifted students to further their education on an accelerated schedule. Eventually Wes left the public schools and began Beach High School, a private school which gives motivated students the freedom to construct their own educational plans.

A mentor helps you reach your goal. “I first worked with Wes when I needed help enrolling at Las Positas College as a 14-year-old home-schooled student. I have continued to avail myself of his assistance throughout the remainder of high school, most particularly in the college applications process this last year. Wes is here for me whenever I need him, his suggestions are invariably on target, and his manner is always respectful.”

Many Beach High School graduates enter college after having skipped much or all of high school. According to Wes, self-direction and passionate engagement are the keys to his students’ success. Hannah is an excellent example.

I am in love with computer engineering and biomedical engineering and plan to pursue either one or both at the college level beginning next fall. I will do so with confidence because Wes has helped me define my life in my own terms. I am very proud of the CAG [Distinguished Service] Award [received]. It is a fitting tribute to a truly outstanding teacher, gentleman, scholar, mentor, and, above all else, friend.”


Further Reading on Mentoring:

Beach, Wes. (2012) Forging Paths: Beyond Traditional Schooling, San Jose: GHF Press. The stories of nine young people who took varying, nontraditional educational paths and succeeded in their chosen endeavors and vocations. Wes Beach, director of an unusual private high school, speaker, and author, prompts you to reconsider the idea that any highly successful career path must involve piling up gold stars in high school to gain immediate admission to a prestigious university in order to earn a degree which can cost more than most people earn in a year. Discover how passion, persistence, creativity and perseverance can lead to a life of satisfaction and even some traditional achievements!

DuBois, David L. & Karcher, Michael J. (2005). The Handbook of Youth Mentoring. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications
The first scholarly and comprehensive synthesis of current theory, research, and practice in the field of youth mentoring, the Handbook explores not only formal programs such as Big Brothers-Big Sisters but also natural mentoring relationships that youth establish with adults outside of such programs.

Grossman, J., & Johnson, A. (1999). Assessing the effectiveness of mentoring programs. In J. Grossman (Ed.), Contemporary issues in mentoring (pp. 24-47). Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.

Herrera, C., Sipe, C., & McClanahan, W. (2000). Mentoring school-age children: Relationship development in community-based and school-based programs. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.

McMullin, Marcia A. & Miller, Patricia M. (2002). Because You Believed in Me: Mentors and Proteges Who Shaped Our World. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Mentors expand boundaries and open worlds of possibilities. Even brilliant people need heroes. A mentor's example, along with questions and shared experiences, helps proteges clarify their paths, crystallize their values, and experience the freedom to explore unimagined vistas.

Morrow, K. V. & Styles, M. B. (1995). Building Relationships with youth in program settings: A study of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.

Rhodes, Jean E. (2002). Stand By Me: The Risks and Rewards of Mentoring Today’s Youth.Harvard University Press
Rhodes summarizes the results of her decade-long analysis of what exactly makes youth mentoring programs effective. Mentors, she found, can greatly support at-risk adolescents in three important ways: enhancing their social skills, improving the cognitive skills through dialog and listening, and serving as a role model and advocate.

Rhodes, J., Grossman, J., & Resch, N. (2000). Agents of change: Pathways through which mentoring relationships influence adolescents’ academic adjustment. Child Development, 71, 1662-1671

MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership
Discover how you can get involved by learning about mentoring, locating mentor programs in your region, becoming a mentor, or finding a mentor for a child.

This article first appeared in theSpring 2005 issue of Gifted Education Communicator, the quarterly journal of the California Association for the Gifted. It is reprinted here with permission.

Stephanie Hood homeschooled her two children using the local public school district's Independent Study Program. Her gifted teenage son has also been identified learning disabled. Having worked as a district GATE administrator and a classroom teacher in both public and Christian schools, Stephanie served on the Boards of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF) and California Association for the Gifted (CAG), and ran Bay Area Homeschool Field Trips (BAHFT).

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