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Mentoring program readies CMSD eighth graders for high school and beyond

True2U group shot at WKYC TV 3

Molly Nackley Feghali (right) with a student

Selecting the right high school is not a choice to take lightly, observers say, as it has potentially far-reaching influence on future educational opportunities and even long-term employment. A Cleveland-based program is giving area eighth graders some much-needed direction on that critical decision.
 
True2U is a mentoring and career awareness effort that prepares junior high students for high school via goal-setting injected with a dose of career and college readiness. Last year, the program connected 807 Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) youth with 150 mentors, a figure expected to double for the 2016-17 academic season. The goal is to serve all 68 CMSD schools by next year.
 
"Every eighth-grade student in a True2U school is part of the program," says Molly Nackley Feghali, project manager for the joint venture, partners for which include CMSD, The Cleveland Foundation, MyCom, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Neighborhood Leadership Institute, and the Greater Cleveland Faith Based Collaborative. "It's helping young people see their future and what they want to do in high school."
 
Eighth grade is a developmental crossroads for students as they explore identity issues and find their unique interests, including what they want to study beyond high school, Nackley Feghali says. Mentors selected from Cleveland's corporate and nonprofit sectors meet groups of attendees for three hours each month, following a structured curriculum that combines personal development with career exploration.

Among others, curriculum components include Naviance, a comprehensive, career and college readiness software package and Teens Can Make It Happen: Nine Steps to Success, a goal-setting and personal responsibility curriculum developed by entrepreneur and author Stedman Graham, who is also an associate of media magnate Oprah Winfrey.
 
"Students are being exposed to different career paths," says Nackley Feghali. "The more diversity we can bring to the program, the better."
 
Launched in 2015, True2U is already making an impression, its director maintains.
 
"CMSD has its high school choice fair in January," Nackley Feghali says. "Based on our programming and relationships they've built with mentors, students say they feel more prepared to make their decision."
 
The program can also curtail high student drop-out rates that occur between eighth and tenth grade. Ultimately, mobilizing an extensive network of school and community resources makes the road to higher education a littler smoother.
 
"Even as adults we struggle with what we want to do, so asking an eighth grader to make decisions that will impact their careers can be daunting," says Nackley Feghali. "We're focused on helping students know more about who they are and what their interests are so that they'll make good decisions for their futures and continue to stay engaged in school."

True2U is recruiting mentors for the 2016-17 academic year. E-mail true2u@neighborhoodleadership.org for more information

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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