Keystone Staff Team
Keystone Mentorship: Bridging the Gap Between Middle and High School

Keystone Mentorship is one of a number of nonprofits developed by students to enable other students to keep up with their studies during the pandemic. This is striking in and of itself: that young people take the initiative to help those even younger than themselves. But what sets Keystone Mentorship aside is the focus on helping middle school students make the transition to high school during this difficult time. There is no doubt that this subset of students needs extra help, especially during COVID-19, when getting an education sometimes seems like Mission Impossible. This is something we wanted to support, and so we were pleased to give this youth-led organization a small grant.

We spoke to several members of the Keystone Mentorship team to learn more about their work:

Kars4Kids: Who founded Keystone Mentorship, and why?

Iris Leung (Co-President): Renee and I founded Keystone Mentorship in March of 2020. Although we never expected Keystone to get to the point we are at now, we envisioned an organization that would help bridge the gap between middle and high school students. Looking back at our own experiences throughout our educational careers, we weren’t aware of the plethora of opportunities that were available to us. We wanted to create a mentorship program that would help smooth the transition while allowing students to make the most of their high school experience, regardless of their interests.

Kars4Kids: Keystone Mentorship is run by high school students. Isn’t it hard to keep up with studies while setting up and running a nonprofit? Did you have any adult assistance in setting things up?

Renee Mok (Co-President): Throughout the process of founding and running Keystone Mentorship, we have definitely found it hard to juggle all the responsibilities of school and the organization especially since Keystone Mentorship is 100% student-run. However, we have a dedicated and talented team of student staff members who are willing to put in their time and energy into making this organization a reality!

Kars4Kids: How would you describe your demographic? How many branches of Keystone Mentorship have been opened?

Ian Chen (VP of Finance): Keystone Mentorship is currently located in 10 schools across California and Washington. Our two branch clusters are centered in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the Seattle – Tacoma – Bellevue Area. A majority of our 270+ mentors are upperclassmen (11th and 12th graders) at local high schools in our target branch clusters. Our core mentee population is composed of 8th and 9th graders at the respective feeder middle and high schools of the region as they are transitioning to schools with existing Keystone Mentorship branches.

Keystone Mentorship mentee/mentor session via ZOOM

Kars4Kids: Tell me about the Rise program.

Rachana Aluri (VP of Rise): Keystone Rise is a new, up and coming program by Keystone aimed at bringing together students from diverse backgrounds to help underprivileged students learn and grow. We’re currently working to create partnerships with multiple schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and connect with kids who may face hardships at home, struggle with learning material, or just need guidance they don’t have readily available. Our vision for Keystone Rise is for students from many of our branches to use their privilege and lift up younger students looking for support with their education. While Rise is not currently fully deployed due to delays in partnership negotiations, we expect the program to be fully online by the 2021-2022 school year as an opportunity for our mentors to apply their skills and connect with students from different communities!

Kars4Kids: How many mentors are currently with Keystone Mentorship? How many mentees? Are the mentoring sessions 1:1?

Ian Chen (VP of Finance): Today our organization boasts over 270+ Mentors at 10 different schools in 2 states. Our flagship mentoring program offers localized, 1 on 1 sessions between mentors and mentees that have resulted in over 2000+ hours of instruction and guidance to over 300 mentees.

Keystone Mentorship virtual math tutoring session
Even in a pandemic, it’s possible to have an online math tutoring session. Keystone Mentorship shows the way.

Kars4Kids: You have a badge system for mentors. What is the purpose of these badges? How does the system work? Are they actual badges you can wear, or something to add to a website?

Iris Leung (Co-President): Our badges are digital awards given to our mentors when they reach certain goals or participate in certain events or activities. These badges are displayed on our website to aid prospective mentees and their parents in finding the mentor to best fulfill their needs.

Kars4Kids: What form does the mentoring relationship take? Is it about studying together? Moral support? Guidance of some kind? Or just friendship?

Ian Chen (VP of Finance): At Keystone Mentorship, our mission is to empower students in their transition from middle school to high school. We’ve seen firsthand how complicated things can be and how quickly they change during this stressful period. Our 1 on 1 mentoring program helps students through this process. While Keystone Mentorship does offer our mentor-mentee pairs with a variety of in-depth tutoring curricula and support, our core focus is on providing social and emotional guidance and support to our mentees. Our mentors offer mentees support in their social lives, extracurricular activities, course selection, and a variety of other areas. Each mentoring relationship is unique and Keystone mentors are encouraged to adapt their mentoring style depending on the needs of their mentee.

Kars4Kids: What type of material do you run on your blog? What do you see as the blog’s ultimate purpose?

Zoe Parkhomovsky (VP of Expansion): Our blogs cover a variety of topics, ranging from someone’s experience with dealing with their overbearing parents and finding their own identity away from them in high school to another student’s experience with learning how to combat anxiety through their own experiences in sports. Blogs are individual stories aimed to show mentees a wide variety of high school experiences that students may not otherwise hear about. The blogs truly aim to assure students that there’s no one path in high school and that it’s okay to struggle at times.

Mentor Mentee study session

Kars4Kids: Your website mentions panels and podcasts. Can you give us an overview of some of the topics that have been treated?

Zoe Parkhomovsky (VP of Expansion): For podcasts, we’ve mostly focused on mental health topics such as dealing with stress especially during covid-19 and how to take care of your mental health when in middle school and high school settings. We are currently still organizing our first panel, but this initiative aims to expose our mentees to different social climates at different schools as well as give students advice on student life at high school, study tips, and mental health issues, as well.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for Keystone Mentorship?

Ian Chen (VP of Finance): As we look forward to 2021, we’re excited to continue expanding our organization and building our existing mentorship program. As much of our leadership prepares to graduate high school, we are reorganizing to usher in the next chapter of our Keystone Mentorship story. Keystone Mentorship is committed to creating lasting mentoring relationships beyond the pandemic as we work to adapt our program for in-person education and events for the coming 2021-2022 school year.

At the same time, Keystone Mentorship continues to expand in our two target regions, especially in our new focus region of Seattle – Tacoma – Bellevue. We hope to create large Keystone communities within these local areas and encourage students from different schools to build new relationships and connect with each other. Here at Keystone Mentorship, we’re excited for the new year and we can’t wait to share what we have in store. Full details of our 2021 Vision Plan and our long term goals will be published on our website once we have completed the transitional period and our new leadership team is in place.