Inspire U program encourages students to graduate, succeed in life

By on February 10, 2014

Who knew a fish market could inspire high school students to overcome “stinky” attitudes with positivity?

But that’s just what happened recently when dozens of high school students learned the power of positive thinking by getting an inside look at the famous Pike Place Fish Market as part of CPS Energy’s Inspire U.

Inspire U is a one-on-one mentoring program that encourages at-risk students to graduate from high school and pursue higher education. CPS Energy works with Communities in Schools – San Antonio to pair employees with students from Edison, Kennedy, Sam Houston and South San high schools. Mentors meet with students at monthly meetings and at their schools at least once a month. About 50 students participate each year; ten of those will go on to get paid work experience with CPS Energy as summer interns.

Along with the typical pressures of high school, some of these students also face poverty, abuse, broken families and other circumstances that pose as major obstacles to graduation.

Financial Analyst Michelle Robles, who has been an Inspire U mentor for more than three years, has seen the positive influence mentors have on students.

“We’re not just mentors,” she said. “We’re able to be a friend who will listen, support and encourage them to keep moving forward, and strive to do better. We want them to continue their education after graduation through college or vocational education. A lot of kids in the program don’t already have this kind of support.”

Last week, Robles and her mentee, Jeff Mendez, a sophomore from Kennedy High School, joined the other students and mentors to watch a video on the business philosophy of the Pike Place Fish Market. The kids learned that the fishmongers do more than sell fish. They go out of their way to involve others in the fun they have at work, sometime inviting customers to throw a fish. Whether they make a sale or not, a fishmonger focuses on helping individuals have a special day.

During the event, Robles and Mendez enjoyed a few laughs while playing with some spring-loaded fish toys they received as mementos. Later, they joined others for a goofy group photo, posing with their best fish faces.

Inspire U students and mentors share their best fish faces as part of an exercise in the power of positive thinking.

Inspire U students and mentors share their best fish faces as part of an exercise in the power of positive thinking.

Mendez has some good ideas how he can apply what he learned from the day’s activities.

“At school, I can get along with new people, make the teacher’s day and make people laugh when we’re not working,” he said.

Fritzi Davis, a junior at Kennedy High School, said she sometimes feels like she’s swimming against the current when she’s around classmates with negative attitudes. However, her positive outlook on life and diligence at school has helped her become a successful student.

“Sometimes it’s difficult being the only one with a smile in a room full of frowns, but it’s worth it,” she said. “Don’t let others drag you down. Try to build them up instead.”

Davis has been in the program for more than two years, including a stint as a paid summer intern. Her success is exactly what mentors hope to see.

“We want our students to be surrounded by mentors who tell them that they have what it takes to succeed,” said Ilsa Garcia, Communities in Schools’ volunteer manager. “Role models like these mentors make a huge difference in these kids’ lives.”

CPS Energy began mentoring students in 2007 through the Connecting The Dots Job Shadowing Program. In 2009, Mayor Julián Castro approached CPS Energy about sharing that program in hopes of increasing mentoring opportunities throughout the community. CPS Energy shared its curriculum and materials with other companies, and today, 50 local companies now mentor more than 1,000 students annually with the help of Communities in Schools.

“CPS Energy is proud to encourage students to become successful at school and in life,” said Karen Sanders, Inspire U coordinator. “It’s amazing to see the positive impact our employees have on these students.”

Inspire U helped Mendez become open to new friendships.

“I used to be shy and it took me a while to get along with people, but I’m now more open with others,” he said.

Mendez dreams of one day following in the footsteps of his grandfather and starting his own mechanic shop. Before he started the program last year, he questioned his need for college. However, the program helped him change his outlook on pursing higher education.

“At first, I didn’t want to go to college, but now I do,” he said. “I changed my mind after talking more about college with (mentors) and hearing about their success.”

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