Kidneys and confidence

StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post by Ben Houser, MS3. Ben participated as a mentor in the MIKE program through an elective course open to MS1 and MS2 students.

“One of the students in your group was involved in a fight and was expelled yesterday, so she won’t be able to attend today.”

I was shocked. The young woman they had described had seemed so energetic and without malice, I couldn’t imagine her getting into any trouble at school, least of all anything that would warrant her expulsion.  I thanked the messenger and entered the classroom to meet the remaining members of my group.

I was a mentor for the Multicultural Integrated Kidney Education (MIKE) Program.  MIKE is a program that matches mentors with a group of high school students for a health class centered on kidney education.  The classes utilize small groups and interactive activities to teach this group of at-risk students about the role of the kidney in health, culminating in a health leadership project in which the group attempts to pass on their new-found knowledge to the community in a constructive manner.

The remaining members of my group were seated at the table, and after seeing me they quickly shuffled the bag of Cheetos they had been eating into one of their backpacks, quietly snickering to one another as I sat down.  Choosing to ignore for now this rebellion against the health class in which they were enrolled, I asked them how their week had been.

A few did not have much to say, commenting only that it had been uneventful.  One had continued to be involved in some legal trouble, although did not go too much into the details.  Most of what I came to know about their lives I gleamed as they talked with one another in my presence.

I can understand their hesitance to open up to me.  What would I know about their experiences?  These are students who have run into trouble in the past.  Some have legal records, others had problems in their original high schools and still others are young parents trying to finish high school while raising a young child.  Many have unstable situations at home.  I cannot possibly relate to their life experience.  At their age, I was approaching high school graduation and college, my childhood seemingly ideal with every advantage afforded to me.  Who am I to be able to mentor a group like this?  What insight could I give that would have any meaningful impact on their very different lives?

What I discovered was that I didn’t have to have answers to these questions.  As time progressed and I continued to work with these students week after week, they began to trust me more.  As we began to work on our health leadership project, they began to look to me for advice on how to proceed.  More and more, my advice shifted from suggestions on what the next step was to simply offering support, telling them that they could, in fact, accomplish their self-assigned task.  I discovered that I did not need to know what to do in order to be of benefit to these students, I just needed to be there.

In our second-to-last week, the students presented their final projects. My group had decided to present a cooking class to the middle school students.  They had prepared everything over the last month, from researching recipes and ensuring cooking space was available to scheduling a time with the middle school students.  What was most remarkable to me, however, was not how much they had prepared but how impressed these students were with themselves when it was over.  They had begun the presentation nervous and afraid of saying the wrong thing and ended being swarmed with middle school students asking for another kale-pineapple smoothie or zucchini muffin, smiles on their faces and having fun.

They had developed a sense of confidence.  They had learned that even if a task seemed somewhat overwhelming, they could accomplish it.  And while I was happy to find that they had at least developed an understanding of the role of nutrition in health, both generally and in terms of the kidney, I was even happier to bear witness to their personal development in the short time I spent with them.