The Academy Community Day School Mentoring Program

The students at The Academy are getting a little help through a mentoring program created by Dr. Pauline Garcia, Principal at The Academy. Established just a few months ago, this program is an answer to the need shown by some of the Academy’s students for the presence of positive role models in their lives. Students that are being mentored have been identified by Dr. Garcia and are teamed up with volunteers from different departments in the District. The students identified to be part of the program have very diverse backgrounds. Some of these students come from single parent homes, others come from situations in which they have little support for education. As diverse as these students and their situations are, they all have one thing in common: they are at The Academy to make up credits and/or learn to modify their behavior, all in an effort to work their way back to their comprehensive high school.

The mentors that are working with these students come from very diverse backgrounds as well. Currently working with students are Nick Newkirk, PUHSD’s Purchasing Agent, Hector Gonzalez, PUHSD’s Director of Facilities, Art Fritz, PUHSD’s Director of Facilities Services, and Mark Synnott, Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) Technology Coach, among other volunteers. The background and experiences of the mentors working with these students is varied. Many mentors come from similar situations as the students and can relate to the issues these students are facing. These men are not teachers or counselors, but are members of the community and as such have good advice to share as well as providing positive encouragement to these students. This is one goal of the program. Further, these volunteer mentors have found the experience so rewarding that they came together to chronicle (or blog) about the program. Here are each of their experiences.

Experience of Hector Gonzalez, Director of Facilities

The experiences that are shared by the volunteers with students, through the mentoring program, are meant to empower and encourage these students to come to school everyday, do well in class, and ultimately reach their goal of graduating from high school. The way the program is structured is such that the volunteer mentor visits the student as frequently as possible and spends a varied amount of time interacting with the student on a one-on-one basis. Goals and achievements are discussed during these meetings as well as the sharing of advice for the students. As an example of some of the interaction that happens with the students, I am currently working with a student that has a home situation in which little support is offered for education. The student is frequently absent from school and has expressed anger issues related to his situation, not only at home but also at school.

During our one-on-one sessions, I offer advice from my personal experiences, having come from a similar background. I offer words of encouragement to come to school and to make up the necessary credits in order for him to return to his comprehensive high school. The student I am mentoring is working hard to try and make it to school everyday. His goal is to make it back to Perris High. Achieving small goals in the right direction are celebrated and encouraged and it is amazing how much this student likes the positive conversations that happen during our visits. On a recent visit to the student, I was surprised to see the student start the one-on-one session with a very negative demeanor. He started the session by talking about having problems with other students at school that day. After talking to him about the need to “let go of the small stuff and concentrate on positive results” his attitude changed and the session ended on a positive note.

The mentoring program at The Academy is something that the students can benefit from. The struggles they are going through are not unique to them. I have had many of the same struggles. Through hard work and determination, I was able to rise above these struggles. Hopefully, my experiences will help a student rise above whatever situation they are facing and succeed.

Experience of Art Fritz, Director of Facilities Services

The initial reaction from the student was one of, “why are you trying to help me” and “you don't know my situation”. He told me “you don't understand my situation or the environment I live in”. When asked to explain it to me the student replied, "you have to live it". The student had signs of hopelessness, abandonment, and seemed to be stuck between life in his current environment and wanting to achieve something better for himself. After sharing some of my life stories, I knew I had gained his respect enough to at least listen and hear an alternative to his current situation. We began to talk about choices and how all of our choices have either positive or negative consequences. We talked about how our entire life is a choice. There are things that we have control of and things we don't have control of but we choose how to make the best of it. Initially, I talked about common core, his attendance, and attitude while at school. I got no response. So we talked about his current life and the situation he was in now. He admitted that it was one of the choices he had made a while ago.

In order to get to a comprehensive high school he had to make up the credits he was missing. The only way to accomplish this was to come to school, behave in class, and make up the credits he had missed. I tried to show him how to use The Academy as a stepping stone to a better place in life which was a choice he had the power to make. Eventually, he could step into that better place he wanted to be in. As we talked more I found that the student loved photography, music, and working with his hands. He needed to see something tangible for his efforts. It has been reported that the student’s attendance has improved which is a plus because he has made a positive choice by coming to school. Personally, I feel that this is an awesome program. To see these students try to become better students is admirable. Most of them just need someone to a least listen to them and point out or help them get to a better place which begins with a high school diploma.

Experience of Nick Newkirk, Purchasing Agent

I have had the opportunity to work with two different students at The Academy, both of which are currently in foster homes. Like the other mentors, I am not a teacher, counselor, site administrator, or therapist. As part of the program, I’m there to simply provide advice, guidance, and most importantly, support. In my initial meetings with each student, it was apparent that their guard was up high and trust would have to be earned along the way. Each student was quick to take ownership of the choices they had made to bring them to The Academy. They were both well-aware of exactly what needed to be done in order to get back to a comprehensive high school. However, they were hesitant to talk about their life experiences and current situations. Although I come from a nuclear family, I was able to share my own life experiences and interests. These commonalities helped to build a mutual relationship wherein we wanted to learn more about each other. Little by little, meeting after meeting, their guard started to come down. Each young man began to share the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. Not having the support of a family means that their home is merely a place they sleep, eat, and want to stay away from for the most part. Their foster families do an incredible job of trying to make their house a home, but each young man wants something more than they can offer. Although I talked with them about their struggles, I also talked with them about their triumphs. Positive encouragement is tremendously important for all students, but it especially beneficial for foster youth. Although each young man had their fair share of disciplinary problems that had led them to the Academy, they are just as capable and intelligent as students at any other site. Many of the talks with the students focused around both short and long-term goals and what they needed to do in order to obtain these goals. Fortunately, they’ll have mentors, teachers, administrators, and their foster families along the way, but ultimately each young man knows that it is up to them to make the right choices and take personal responsibility for their future. As foster youth, they also understand that much of what they do is going to have to be done alone. The challenges faced by foster youth are many, but more than anything they need someone to believe in them.

Experience of Mark Synnott, TOSA Technology Coach

For the last seven years, I taught Reading Intervention at Pinacate Middle School. Most of the students that attend The Academy used to be my students. Dr. Garcia asked me if I would mentor one student in particular who was getting into trouble daily. When Dr. Garcia told me his name I immediately smiled. I had taught this student when he was a 7th grader and he was in trouble all the time. I remember writing him up the first day of school. He had over 40 referrals his 7th grade year and even more as an 8th grader. This student was eventually sent to The Academy the end of his 8th grade year. He started the 2014-2015 school year at The Academy as a Freshman.

I began meeting with the student in September of 2014. He laughed when he first saw me and yelled “Hi Mr. Synnott!” and shook my hand. We talked about “Pinacate memories” and the times he got in trouble in my class. Our first two meetings consisted of talking and laughing about middle school life. I earned his trust pretty quickly. When it comes down to it, kids just wanted to be listened to and know that the person listening actually wants to be there. I told him constantly, “Listen, I care about you and I want to see you in High School. Middle School is over, it’s time to grow up!” After a few more meetings he asked me, “How do I get to Perris High?”

I met with this student once a week for four months. I started each visit with his referral count and asked him to explain to me why he was getting in trouble. I stressed the importance of treating everyone with respect, even those you don’t like. The second part of our meeting usually consisted of the student venting while I listened. By November, we had our routine down. He became determined to get to high school by second semester. All I did was encourage him and tell him constantly how proud I was of him. That’s all he needed to hear. Over the course of four months the student’s referral count dramatically dropped. He was not perfect but he began to take ownership of his actions. To make a long story short, this student started at Perris High School January 15th. He had met his goal of going to high school by second semester.

I saw him a few weeks ago and asked him how he likes Perris High. He replied, “It’s Awesome! I’m in ROTC now.” I’m so proud of him and the man he is becoming.

Experience of Dr. Pauline Garcia, Principal of The Academy

I have worked in the Perris Union High School District for 16 years. I started out as a high school counselor at one of the comprehensive high schools. I have worked as an administrator at four schools in the district; two comprehensive high schools, the continuation school and currently, I am the principal at the Academy Community Day School.

I have to say that the Academy is by far my heart, my passion and my love. I did not know what to expect when I started. I had heard negative comments about the school and students. However, once I arrived, I instantly fell in love with it. I knew being at the Academy was “my calling”. It was evident that the students had lost hope. They did not believe in themselves. Nor, did they feel that others believed in them. My students need constant reassurance. They need a boost of encouragement and motivation every period and every day of the week.

It is an unrealistic expectation to require my students to attend school and focus solely on their work when in the back of their minds they are facing many challenges in their everyday life. Many of my students come to school with a heavy load of sadness, abandonment, fear, confusion, homelessness and hunger to name a few. I knew my students needed more and deserved more.

I began conversations about starting a Mentoring Program for the students at my school. I looked within the school district to identify and recruit respectful, successful individuals willing to give a little to help my students feel a sense of worth. I have been fortunate to work with Mr. Mark Synnott, Mr. Nick Newkirk, Mr. Art Fritz, Mr. Hector Gonzalez, Dr. Charles Newman, and others. They have become a beacon in the lives of my students. They have renewed a sense of hope in my students, that success is attainable. More importantly, that they matter. I cannot thank them enough for their generosity and selflessness in helping me change the lives of my students at The Academy Community Day School.


Although the mentoring program at The Academy is still in its infancy, visible progress is being made with students. Hopefully this program grows and other mentors are able to join in helping these students. With it being such a small school, it’s realistic that every student could eventually work with a mentor during their time at The Academy. As strange as it sounds, the goal for students at The Academy is actually to leave the site. By showing up for school, earning credits, and staying out of trouble, students have the opportunity to move back to comprehensive sites, graduate high school, and better their futures. The mentoring program is designed to offer students some extra support to help make these goals a reality.