Mentoring Successful Scholars Program
- Women & Gender
The Mentoring Successful Scholars program was established in 1993 as the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship program in memory of Michele Sylvester, a former PC Senegal Volunteer dedicated to gender and development work. Its purpose is to help close the gender gap in education, as many girls drop out as a result of early marriage or pregnancy, or to help with housework, particularly during the middle school years. The scholarship provides money for school inscription fees and school supplies for girls at each participating middle school in order to decrease some of the financial barriers to school attendance. All scholarship recipients are required to participate in one formal training during the school year, and this year, we are also requesting funds to help start more sustainable “scholarship clubs.” The MSS Scholarship Club will focus on developing personal and professional skills through practical applications. Girls will engage with topics directly connected to their lives including women’s health, hygiene, financial responsibility, and environmental instability. Girls will reinforce their skills and knowledge through interconnected activities such as reusable pad-making, soap-making, and small soap-making business budgeting. Girls will develop self-confidence, leadership, and facilitation skills by engaging with their individual passions, community social issues, and group-wide goals for the future through activities including an argumentative speech competition, a group-designed mural and community presentation, and environmental, educational, and career-focused action planning. MSS Scholars will then reinforce their development and dedicate themselves to encouraging others by acting as a mentor and peer-to-peer facilitator to a younger student.
School administration and teachers have been involved from the beginning of the program at each participating school, by selecting the participants, based on objective factors such as grades and subjective input from administrators and teachers, based on their local knowledge and insight of each girl’s home and financial situation. This year, all Volunteers will use a committee of teachers for scholarship recipient selection, where they review the applications received as a team. Volunteers must not be in a position where they may be perceived as handing out money or be involved in the selection or evaluation of students as recipients of money. The project must demonstrate that only host country nationals should be in charge of the process of nomination, selection, and administration of any funds used for this purpose. School administration and teachers are also very involved in the application process, publicizing the program to students, and planning the congratulatory ceremony and any follow-up activities. Volunteers are also required to involve a local counterpart in their group’s club.
School representatives, including the principal and teachers, will begin the selection process of the girls. These selections will be approved by a small group of high-level community leaders, including the president of the youth association and members of the community involved in development projects at the health post. The committee plans on selecting some girls who participated in last year’s MSS program and some new students. Once the club is ready, our community contribution plan focuses on involving two teacher counterparts as much as possible. One male teacher and one female teacher will be involved in the program planning, implementation, and evaluation processes. At least one counterpart will be present and actively involved at each club meeting, helping to facilitate, translate, and lead certain sessions. By encouraging teachers to have an active role in all parts of the process, I hope to transfer ownership of the club and its outcomes to the teachers and the school and show how facilitating activities on a yearly basis with young women can be very beneficial to the community as well as entirely possible with enough community commitment.
Counterparts are assigned to work with the volunteers throughout the duration of the program to ensure the continuation of newly established clubs once the program and Volunteer have finished. In addition to the material support of the inscription fees and school supplies, candidates also engage in activities that will allow them to train others in their community on new skills that will sustain knowledge sharing within the community. These activities can relate to the four sectors within Peace Corps Senegal: Community Economic Development, Health, Agriculture, and Agro-Forestry. Volunteers will work with their girls and school counterparts to turn these activities into themed-student-run clubs that are designed to continue after the Volunteer has left their site. The girls will also sustain the benefits of the program after taking part in the future planning essay writing. After this session, they will develop plans for successfully completing their educations and embarking on careers. I plan to involve the counterparts as much as possible in the planning process for the club meetings and to hold debriefing sessions for us as facilitators. The counterparts are both key leaders in the community and school as well as individuals capable of continuing on all aspects of the club but the financial. The financial aspect of the club, while incredibly important to begin working, is transferable to the community through committed budgeting and savings. I plan to involve families in budget trainings and, if possible, a savings program, to encourage them to continue investing in their daughters’ educations.
To continue the MSS club’s goals, I will provide as many resources as possible for this year, and show counterparts how to adapt and continue building lesson plans, project templates, and creative programs that do not necessarily rely on financial means. I also plan to encourage the mentorship aspect of the club to continue since, by the end of the year, each mentee can become a mentor for a new student and increase the network of girls and youth impacted by the club. Ideally, by encouraging strong mentor-mentee relationships, the school and MSS club can build a network of resources and knowledge for future female students and mentees can grow into mentors for their underclassmen. Involving girls who have already participated in the club can also help teachers continue to develop and implement the club in the future. I also wish to establish continuous and annual evaluations to develop the club and commit year-by-year to implementing the club.