Q&A with Superintendent Chris Funk, School Partner and iMentor Bay Area mentor

iMentor Bay Area’s inaugural program year launched in 2016 with our largest school partner to date, James Lick High School in San Jose. East Side High School District superintendent, Chris Funk, was instrumental in bringing our whole school model to JLHS and has long been a champion of providing every student with the tools and support needed to achieve their dreams. As if that wasn't enough, Chris also signed up to be one of iMentor Bay Area’s first mentors. We sat down with him to learn more about his perspective, as both an educational leader and mentor, on the power of relationships to help students on their college journey and beyond.

iMentor: Why did East Side High School District choose to work with iMentor?

Chris: I was amazed at the model and the success that iMentor has demonstrated in New York City. Every student should have a mentor just like any professional should have a mentor or coach to support his or her work. I firmly believe in executive coaching for adults. And, students navigating the high school system and trying to get into college need all the support that we can provide. This should not be a lonely, individual journey.

iMentor: How does iMentor complement the support our district already provides its schools?

Chris: With the implementation of the Local Control Accountability Plan, we have hired 28 more counselors and we have placed a full-time social worker on every campus. We know that if a student has one caring adult on campus, it increases the likelihood of that student graduating high school and attending college. iMentor is a perfect fit to the support system that we are creating in East Side.

iMentor: What ways will iMentor help East Side High School District meet its college access goals?

Chris: iMentor provides the platform and the model for students to engage with a caring adult and provides resources for students to learn about college, financial aid, and career exploration. Developing a college going culture does not rest in one domain or department, but it rests on the collective school community.

iMentor: What does iMentor’s whole school model mean for the success of James Lick High School?

Chris: When you have an iMentor staff member on hand, full-time, it makes a world of difference to the students and staff at a school. It allows for collaboration and breaks down the walls of an outside group forcing a program on a school. iMentor is a part of the school.

iMentor: What inspired you to become an mentor in the iMentor program?

Chris: I’ve always lead with the motto that I would never ask people to do something that I have not done or I’m not willing to do myself. I’ve been a part of another mentoring program where I was partnered with another adult and we took 10-12 ninth graders and followed them through high school. It was a three and half year commitment. It did not have the same support that iMentor provides, but it still had an enormous impact on the five students that made it through.

iMentor: To any prospective mentors out there who haven’t volunteered yet, what would you tell them about the volunteer experience that they might not know?

Chris: It isn’t as scary as you think it is. The fact of the matter is that us mentors all share one common experience — college. Every college experience is unique, which provides the opening to have those conversations with students. So, if someone is hesitant to get involved because they’re scared, it’s not as scary as people think it is, and you overcome that fear quickly.

iMentor does a great job of providing all the support systems; it’s really a lockstep sequence. It takes the fear out of it. The fact that it’s once a week on email and once a month in-person, it’s not a huge commitment. iMentor makes it easy. The program is easy. The hard part is getting your mentee to open up.

iMentor: How is your relationship developing with your mentee during this first year of your match?

Chris: At this point and time, it is going slowly. I’m still only getting one or two word answers. It’s still one sided, all of the questions come from me. It will take time and I know that Alejandro will come around.

The first time I mentored, the first year with my mentees was the “who are you” year. The sophomore year was “oh, you’re back.” By the junior and senior year it was “yeah, this is awesome.” It just takes time.

iMentor: Do you have any thoughts on how to help grow your relationship with Alejandro? What advice would you give other mentors having the same initial experience with their mentee?

Chris: One of the challenges during the school meet-ups is that there are so many people in one room. It’s hard to really have a solid conversation or a private conversation. So, I’m going to reach out to Alejandro and try to get together once a month outside of the program, even if it’s just for coffee. I’ll also try to increase the type of activities we do, just to give us a chance to get away and get to know each other outside of a formal setting and not always having to talk about college. It’d be nice to just hang out.

iMentor: What aspirations do you have for your mentee?

Chris: I hope that Alejandro does not set goals that are low and too simple to accomplish. He sometimes lacks confidence and has developed poor study habits over the years. I believe community college is a viable option for Alejandro, but I’m afraid he is struggling to see beyond two years of college.

iMentor: And finally, if your mentee reads this Q&A, is there any message you’d like to share with him about this three-year journey you two have embarked on?

Chris: I hope Alejandro understands that I have the best intensions at heart. I want him to know that he’s not on this journey alone. And, although it may seem like it’s daunting, I thought it I was daunting too when I first was deciding which college to go to and whether to go to a college out of state, but it was one of the best decisions that I ever made. I’m excited to be by his side during this journey with no pressure or expectations that he must choose this college or that college. The journey will take us where it takes us.