“When I think of our college student mentors over the last four years, Jack Hayes stands out. Mr. Jack has been an important member of the Higher Achievement mentoring community, serving at both our Hill District and Homewood centers. He has brought positivity, jokes, and a willingness to be flexible when needed. Mr. Jack has the ability to get on the level of the scholars he works with and find common interests to solidify their bonds—whether it be talking about relationships, sports, or the importance of school. Mr. Jack was always prepared each week with a joke, a fun lesson, and a smile. He also has represented Higher Achievement mentors on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, helping us recruit at least five mentors in one year, and he’s leaving us a legacy as he closes his college career – a new Higher Achievement student group so more young people like him can inspire and be inspired by our scholars. Here, Jack describes his Higher Achievement experience.”
—Wendy Etheridge Smith, Pittsburgh Executive Director
You could say I was born to be a mentor. The oldest of four boys, I was always looking out for my brothers. Being a good role model was my job. My parents drilled that into my head.
When I got to college, a kid on my floor told me about Higher Achievement. It was the first time I’ve been in a teacher role in an academic sense, and it definitely was a challenge. I learned to embrace that. The rewards are great—far greater than what I put into it, which is a lot.
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that before you can do anything with a middle schooler, you have to make a relationship with them first. So I’d just start rattling stuff off. What’s your favorite video game? What’s your favorite team? This is Pittsburgh, so of course we talk Pirates and Steelers.
My very first scholar was Corey. I was his math mentor, and he was struggling with fractions, percentages, and decimals. Finally, he figured it out, and it was like a light bulb turning on. I’ll never forget that.
But it’s not all serious. There are a lot of laughs, too. It’s a laid–back environment. The main point is to be a mentor, to be a friend. They talk about their siblings, or their parents. If they want to talk, we’re willing to listen.
The Volunteer and Scholar Coordinators are awesome: Gabby at Homewood and Grant at Hill are both extremely supportive and willing to help with discipline. They give us ideas for how to engage scholars better. Anything good that happens at Higher Achievement is because of the center staff.
I’m graduating in April and going to medical school. Before I go, one thing I really want to do is to get more Pitt students involved. We’re starting an official Higher Achievement club on campus to increase recruitment of mentors. The goal is having a 1:1 mentor-to-scholar ratio.
Mentoring is a cool thing to add to your normal day. This has been a great opportunity to be a mentor to somebody outside of your usual circle, and it’s changed the way I picture my career. I’m the first to go to med school in my family, and right now I’m looking at pediatrics.