With impressive advocacy skills and emotional intelligence, 13-year-old Edwich offers a robust support system for his peers.
Being a teenager has never been easy; in the wake of Covid-related disruptions and generally stressful times, it hasn’t gotten any easier. Caregivers and educators can play a role in supporting the social and emotional health of teens, but sometimes only a contemporary can truly relate.
Enter peer mentoring. Edwich, 13, a cochlear implant user and a seventh grader who receives Clarke’s Mainstream Services in Everett, MA, is currently training to become a peer mentor. His mentorship program, run by the Conflict Resolution Unlimited (CRU) Institute, emphasizes peer mediation, in which students solve interpersonal conflicts with the support of a peer mentor.
Edwich, who was selected by his school to participate in the program, became interested in mentoring thanks to the influence of his own mentor: his older sister, Rose. Rose has typical hearing, but Edwich says she taught him a lot about managing his hearing loss. “She would tell me, ‘You’re not less, you’re just different and unique. Being deaf isn’t a liability,’” he says. “It really improved my perspective, and I want to help other kids understand that as well.” Edwich also credits his twin sister, Taisha, for helping him when it got hard growing up.
Peer Mentorship for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
While all students can benefit from having a peer mentor, it can be especially valuable for teens with hearing loss.
“[A peer mentor] is someone who will hold you accountable and be a guiding light on how to deal with certain situations,” says Kasia Daniels, MED, itinerant teacher of the deaf at Clarke. “For children who are deaf or hard of hearing, having a mentor who also has hearing loss can be beneficial since they’ve likely been in a similar situation.”
“Mentoring for me is about having a connection with someone who also gets it,” says Edwich. “Someone you can be comfortable with, that you’re able to talk to about different situations and someone who will be there for you.”
Teens also benefit from becoming mentors. “Being a mentor gives you a chance to listen to other experiences,” says Kasia. “Hearing about their struggles and hardships broadens your own understanding of the world and other people.”
Why a Background in Self-Advocacy Matters
To be an impactful mentor, a teen needs an appropriate level of social and emotional intelligence. For students with hearing loss, a strong indicator of this ability is being a good self-advocate.
At 13, Edwich is an impressive self-advocate. (Example: When our interviewer’s Zoom captions weren’t switched on, he immediately pointed it out.) But he acknowledges that this skill didn’t always come easy.
“It was hard at first. I’d feel embarrassed,” he says. “By fourth grade, it was easier, and by sixth grade, I was totally comfortable doing it.”
“He’s a great advocate for himself,” says Kasia, who has worked with Edwich since first grade. “Middle school is often when kids can reject self-advocating, but he shined. He’s good at reporting device issues, he speaks up for himself and more importantly, he understands he has the right to do so.”
Other traits a peer mentor needs are empathy and patience — people don’t usually go to their mentors when everything is going perfectly. And Edwich has those attributes in spades. ‘’He is one of my most patient, understanding students,” says Kasia. “He’s great at listening to other perspectives and gives good advice.”
She adds that when they used to have a school-based lunch bunch (a time for students with hearing loss to socialize in small groups during lunch—either with other students who are deaf or hard of hearing or with peers with typical hearing, and with support from a teacher of the deaf), he was very patient with one particular student who was a bit younger. “He gave him great advice and really took him under his wing,” Kasia says. “It’s so exciting to see him grow into such a role model.”
Edwich has big plans. He’s looking forward to starting his first job this summer and saving some money. “I want to be less financially dependent on my parents,” he says. “They’ve already done so much for me.” Longer term, he’s looking to keep up his record of straight As and get into a good college — his future major and career are still to be decided. It’s easy to picture him achieving these goals — and helping to mentor other students and future colleagues along the way.
For more information about mentorship, read “The Benefits of a Mentor,” from the winter 2022 issue of Mainstream News.