“In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care,” – Maya Angelou.
Mentorship has been an ongoing-targeted effort at the Maya Schools community. Diane MacEachern has been a tutor and, most importantly, mentor to many students at the Young Adult Learning Center, YALC, for nearly a year. She works one-on-one with students three days a week in preparation for them to earn a GED.
MacEachern spent most of her professional life as an environmental advocate, protecting public lands and promoting solutions to climate change. Although her work has made great impacts on the environment like helping to protect millions of acres of public land, MacEachern felt that there was more work to be done. “Protecting a forest is wonderful, and essential, but sometimes the works lacks a human element.. That’s what I find meaningful about tutoring and mentoring,” said MacEachern.
Growing up in Detroit, in which she self-classified as a child of the ‘60s, MacEachern faced the era’s transformative events, including the riots and deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy. Based on such events, MacEachern’s family committed themselves to encourage citizens to be democratic and civically engaged. The interest in service-oriented work led her to become active in issues like civil rights, human rights, and the environment. Early jobs out of college as lead cook at a geology camp and a legal assistant led her back to graduate school and eventually to Washington, DC, where she became a business owner, writer, blogger, tutor, and mentor.
MacEachern reached a turning point while working at the YALC. She initially applied for the role to help disadvantaged students earn their GED, which she feels is the gateway to economic justice. “It all starts with education,” said MacEachern.
She began her journey with preconceived notions that all students at YALC had learning disabilities. MacEachern felt that her sole purpose was to help students read and write to pass the exam. After building relationships with students over time, she realized that her assumptions were wrong. “There isn’t an appreciation that this population has a lack of knowledge and opportunity, which is much different than capability,” said MacEachern.
Beyond capability, students also face many social injustices. MacEachern reflected on a time that a student shared a story about a friend who was hospitalized due to gunshot wounds to the stomach. She asked the student if she knew why her friend was shot. “Wrong place, wrong time,” the student shared.
YALC has a large population of student parents who struggle with managing everyday life. Other students were once on the path to a high school diploma but dropped out due to unforeseen circumstances. These are not the kind of students that MacEachern thought she’d be tutoring.
“Before working here, all I knew was what I read in the paper or on TV. It just breaks my heart when I see the tough lives some of the students live. I’ve had to walk out of the classroom some of the time,” said MacEachern.
She goes on to state, “For people who don’t live in this “world,” this (circumstances mentioned above) is very abstract to them. If you haven’t experienced it, it is so easy to be judgmental.”
The work continues. MacEachern has uncovered trends that hold many students back from passing the GED exam. One that stood out, in particular, was the students’ lack of reading skills. “It’s not that students don’t understand how to read; it’s that many have such a limited reading vocabulary. They often do not understand the directions in their work or on their tests because of how advanced the vocabulary seems to be.”
MacEachern has taken on this challenge in partnership with many other YALC staff members to create a library with donated books with hopes that student parents will take them and read to their children. “I think that if students read more to their kids, then they may be encouraged to read quality materials to themselves,” she said.
Having traveled to 49 states and five out of seven continents, including a 150-mile hike past the Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal, MacEachern knows what it’s like to go on a long and challenging journey. At YALC, she feels that the journey of working with students at YALC is just as fulfilling and rewarding.