Our award winning mentoring programme with Dublin's CBS Westland Row sees volunteer mentors pairing up with students in fifth year and working with them up until their Leaving Cert.
At any one time there are 16 KPMG mentors working with students and teacher John Davis at CBS Westland Row. The mentoring programme is one of the first things on John’s calendar at the beginning of each academic year.
“I set up a meeting with Karina Howley from KPMG and Joe O’Donnell from Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) to start the process of setting up the programme for that year. We then select eight students from 5th year, four male and four female. The way it works is that they will be out of school once a month for a meeting with their KPMG mentor to go for lunch and a chat. There is a vocational ethos to the programme and it also has a social aspect and assists greatly with personal development.”
The programme has grown in popularity with the students over the years. “We have about 30 students in 5th year”, says John. “We explain the programme to them but a lot of them already know about it having heard about it from friends or brothers and sisters. When the programme began we were cajoling the students to get the numbers because we wanted to keep it going, but now we get more applications than we have places.”
Students are asked to write a story about why they want to become involved in the programme and are then interviewed. “It’s not always the best students academically who are chosen for the programme,” John explains. “We want to choose the students who will benefit most.”
It is also hugely popular in KPMG with the annual call for volunteer mentors frequently oversubscribed with volunteers coming from all areas of the organisation.
Mentors take part in a preparatory training session and then KPMG, BITCI and CBS do a matching session and pair them with students on the basis of shared interests or complementary personalities. “The personal development aspect of the programme is very important,” John notes.
The first year of the programme is very much about building the relationship. “It’s about breaking down barriers through exploring shared interests such as football and other sports and entertainment. They can also find that the mentor had challenges in school themselves and that helps. They see the mentor as not so different to themselves in many ways.”
The relationship building process is reinforced by twice-yearly fun events with all the mentors and students taking part. This has included going ice-skating together and training with Ireland’s former Olympic boxing champion Katie Taylor at her gym in Bray.
After that it’s a question of looking ahead and by 6th year the mentoring sessions become more focused on career and academic choices. Quite often the student being mentored will be the first in their family to sit the Leaving Certificate exams, so sources of advice and support are very welcome.
Looking at the overall benefits of the programme, John says they are sometimes hard to measure. “I have a strong feeling that the benefits are more long-term than immediate and that it helps the students in their careers and in their personal relationships long after they leave here. I do know that the feedback is overwhelmingly positive with 99 per cent of the kids rating it very highly. Many of them said it helped their self-confidence and communications skills.”
John also points to examples of students who benefited from it in measurable ways. “I can think of examples where students received great support from their mentors and went on to study accountancy or business at college. From our point of view the relationship often lasts beyond the mentorship and many still meet up with their KPMG mentors for lunch and regular chats.”
“I would like it to go on forever”, John concludes. “I believe other students around Ireland should have an opportunity to be mentored in this way, but this is a very structured programme which succeeds because of a huge commitment and it would be hard to replicate that on a larger scale. I would definitely recommend it to any other school.”