As the school year ends, many high school students struggle to find the answer to one question of what they will do over the summer. With a plethora of options to choose from, from a summer job to tackling summer online PE, students tirelessly search for an activity that will allow them to explore their passion and stand out amidst hundreds of other high school students. This requires an activity that is fun, rewarding, and beneficial for both parties involved.
BranchOut! is the one such activity. A non-profit, student mentoring program founded in 2016 by Harvard graduate Dr. Sharon Wu and Richard Wang, BranchOut!’s impact has reached hundreds of students around the DMV area and expanded tremendously in size. Starting with only 20 students, who volunteered at only two locations, BranchOut! is now an organization with over 130 students mentors working to promote the importance of education at nine different locations all across Maryland and Virginia. At the beginning of every summer, BranchOut! student mentors, high school students from over 10 different schools, gather together at various events, annual mentor training sessions, and virtual meetings, to engage with other student mentors and to learn about how they can connect with their mentees and mentor effectively. BranchOut! creates a wholesome community of proactive leaders that learn and grow through each other, creating meaningful friendships and memories while serving their community. Though the student mentors are only high school students, each has a powerful drive to create change through sharing their knowledge.
BranchOut! mentors are involved in many types of service. For example, at various community centers around the area, BranchOut! mentors design interactive, STEM-based curriculums for elementary and middle school students. Mentors lead demonstrations, teaching the young students new concepts while fostering creativity and curiosity. BranchOut! mentors themselves also experience rewarding growth. Multiple volunteers shared that they saw themselves become “more confident and outgoing” as they learned to share their ideas and teach not only one student, but also a whole class of students. BranchOut! Mentors also have the option to serve at Patrick Henry Family Shelter, a homeless shelter offering temporary housing to families with children and parents working to find jobs. There, mentors also serve to close the achievement gap, sharing STEM concepts with the children at the shelter, many who rarely receive exposure to learning opportunities outside of school. As shared by the community coordinator at Patrick Henry, BranchOut!’s team of mentors benefited the children in many ways, and “the types of activities and attention [mentors] provided [was] just the type of thing [the] kids in the shelter needed”.
Through BranchOut!, mentors learn more about their community and engage with individuals with different backgrounds and different stories to share. Mentors give hope and encouragement to students who may have never found pride and enjoyment in learning. Whether it may be a smile on a young child’s face as they construct their own spaghetti-and-marshmallow tower, or a teacher adopting a new teaching style from the way mentors teach students, each BranchOut! mentor makes a noticeable change.
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