One of the most popular programs for seniors at my high school is the mentorship program, which allows students to shadow adult mentors at local businesses, organizations, schools, and other community groups. I completed my mentorship with the technology teacher at my former elementary school and had the opportunity to develop a lot of amazing skills and lead or participate in experiences that influence my work in assistive technology and inclusive design to this day. Here are ten of the most valuable skills I learned from participating in my high school mentorship, and how this experience was especially valuable for me as a student with low vision.
Selecting websites/hardware/software for students
What makes a website a good pick for students to use? What goes into choosing hardware or software that is kid-proof or kid-friendly? While I was familiar with privacy laws such as COPPA, my mentor taught me a lot about what makes a website, software, or hardware good for kids, and showed me how to choose tools that would work well for students. I was able to apply what I had learned about hardware to create a DonorsChoose funding project for new video equipment and select devices that would work well for student needs.
- App Accessibility Checklist for Low Vision
- Choosing New Devices With Chiari Malformation
- How To Create A DonorsChoose Project That Will Get Funded
Assisting with classroom lessons
At the beginning of each class, my mentor would demonstrate the lesson of the day on the projector, and I would sit towards the front of the room and follow along, jumping in to help with demonstrating different concepts or calling on students who were raising their hands. For one memorable lesson, I was able to collaborate with my mentor to develop a presentation on internet safety and another on passwords, and learned how to develop lessons that reflect student experiences, such as how selfies can inadvertently reveal location information.
- Be Internet Awesome With Visual Impairment: Safer Internet Day 2020
- How To Create Secure And Easy To Remember Passwords
Adapting technology for student needs
While I wasn’t allowed to know which students received disability accommodations, I was able to observe students who were struggling to use technology and introduce them to tools that could help. As an example, one student had difficulty reading small print within a software application, so I enabled Windows Magnifier so that they would be able to enlarge items on the screen more easily. In another case, a student said that they had trouble selecting the “copy” option when right-clicking on text, so I showed them the keyboard shortcut for control-C. Learning about these tools helped these students tremendously with accessing technology!
Developing clear and concise explanations for different concepts
When helping students in the classroom or on outside projects (such as those with the school news), I often had to answer a lot of questions about technology in a way that was easy for students to understand, as well as occasional questions about my disability. This meant that I had several opportunities to practice giving clear and concise explanations of various concepts, such as how to choose which printer to use, how to resolve an error message, and why I asked the student if they could read to me what’s on their screen. These skills were especially beneficial when I started writing and educating others about technology online, or when I had to explain assistive technology concepts to my professors.
- How To Explain Disability Accommodations To Professors
- Learning To Explain Usable Vision
- School News and Low Vision
- How I Respond To Children’s Questions/Comments About Low Vision
Practicing creative problem solving
When assisting students with a video editing project, I realized that several students were standing around one laptop and blocking the hallway, and that I also couldn’t see a thing on screen. I mentioned this to my mentor who asked if I had any ideas on how to improve this, and after thinking for a minute, I suggested connecting a larger external monitor to the computer so everyone could see it. After a quick trip to the supply area, the monitor was connected and everyone could see the screen without having to hold their heads at an uncomfortable angle. Learning to come up with solutions like this on the fly has been very helpful when it comes to addressing accessibility barriers or other technology issues.
- Classroom Technology That Benefits Low Vision Students
- Ways I Use My Google Chromecast For Virtual Learning
Editing videos/teaching videography skills
I spent a lot of time with the school news/videography students since I had a lot of experience filming school-related videos. Often times, there were very tight editing deadlines that could not be met by the students alone, so my mentor asked me to step in and finish editing projects or presentations such as the graduation video. Learning to edit videos in programs like iMovie helped a lot with editing projects in college, and I was able to write tutorials for students on how to do a few different editing techniques that they could reference later on.
Providing hands-off assistance
One of the things I struggled with at first was learning how to show students how to solve problems without solving it for them. One of the techniques my mentor encouraged me to practice was asking guiding questions to help the student come up with a solution on their own. As an example, if a student was having trouble saving a document, I would ask them to locate the save option and give hints as to where it might be located, instead of pressing the button for them. However, if there was a case where not intervening could be dangerous (such as when a student tried to film a video while being pushed in a rolling trash can), I made sure to address the situation as quickly as possible!
Coming up with adaptations on my own
Since this was before I started using a blindness cane, the majority of students I worked with were not aware I had trouble seeing. Part of this is because I was able to come up with adaptations on my own so that I could complete classroom tasks with either limited or no assistance. For example, since I had trouble identifying students who would walk up to me and ask questions, I asked them to identify themselves, i.e “hi Veronica, this is Jack”, and wait for me to acknowledge them before asking a question. In another case, I realized that I couldn’t safely walk down a steep flight of stairs, so I learned how to use the elevator system and meet students near the elevator entrance. These techniques helped a lot when I returned for other projects after my mentorship ended, as I knew these strategies had worked well in the past.
- How To Be An Effective Human Guide For People With Vision Loss
- How I Learned To Navigate My Internship Building With Low Vision
Collaborating with other teachers
Even though I primarily worked with the technology teacher, I also was able to shadow other teachers and learn various strategies from them, such as how to use document cameras and improve playback of streaming video. Conversely, I also shared strategies with them, such as how to make text on the board easier to see and how to use some of my favorite applications.
- How To Make Classroom Videos Easier To See
- 5 Apps That Help Students With Low Vision In The Classroom
Learning how to mentor others
One of the most important skills I developed in my high school mentorship was how to mentor others and how to be an effective mentor. My mentor was fantastic not only in teaching me new things, but teaching me how to learn and share things with others. I have stayed in touch with them over the years and admire their ability to make every student excited about technology and encouraging them to try new things and see what happens. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to learn from them and that I’ve been able to share what I’ve learned with others- to quote a note one of the previous students had left, “there will never in the history of awesome be another teacher like you!”
Other benefits of participating in high school mentorship
- Unique addition to college applications- my mentorship was one of the most common things people asked about during interviews
- In many cases, mentors can provide students with recommendation letters
- Several opportunities for community networking
- Allowing students to practice transition and self-advocacy related skills
- Help students figure out what they want to do after high school and explore potential majors/career fields