Keeping it Real and Relaxed
The My Brother's Keeper pledge: We will work hard. We will gain knowledge. We will share. We will be kind to each other. We will love and take care of each other. We will learn to become our own brother's and sister's keeper.
The first thing you notice about Zack Silverman is his affable demeanor. He converses easily and moves with an energetic, swinging style that hints at his skateboarding proficiencies.
Zack was a student in Austin Jackson's RCAH 292B course, "Engagement and Reflection," which provides training to MBK volunteers in critical approaches to literacy, education, and mentoring. Silverman says one of his goals is to create a comfortable, nurturing environment where middle school boys can interact freely with him and other MSU students.
His laid-back manner puts students at ease and contributes to Silverman's ability to facilitate the intellectual environment that shapes the program. Getting students to respond to them allows the mentors to convey the goals of the program. Key among those goals is introducing at-risk youth to a positive university experience by showing that learning is enjoyable, college is possible, you have potential, you are able to dream, and you can achieve those dreams.
The Silverman family moved from a Detroit residence when Zack was young, but he spends a good deal of time in the city with friends who live in Detroit neighborhoods. He believes that mentoring is a two-way learning experience.
"We learn about them, they learn about us," said Silverman. "There is major bonding that happens, and it forms naturally as we do things together."
Zack and other mentors in the program pair up to work with four or five mentees during visits. Structured activities such as writing exercises are interspersed with outdoor activities and meals in an MSU residence hall cafeteria. "Eating lunch is one of their favorite things, because of the choices and the freedom they have to make decisions," said Silverman.
"We learn about them, they learn about us. There is major bonding that happens, and it forms naturally as we do things together."
Silverman understands that food and Frisbees help frame a positive environment, while the more serious purpose is to offer experiences where the middle school boys can gain confidence and envision themselves attending MSU. Some of the boys know people who have attended college, but many do not have close family members with university experience or a college-educated background. The thought of attending Michigan State University, or any other higher education institution, is rarely discussed or contemplated in the home. Often, that leads to negative perceptions about who is college-worthy, or what abilities are necessary to advance beyond high school learning.
Silverman and the other mentors dialogue with the mentees and bring campus life into focus, addressing everything from classroom work to dorm life to extracurricular activities to life after graduation.
"It's a good mix of fun and serious, same as the real college experience," said Silverman.