Mangere East Primary is one of the schools across Auckland offering MATES Junior to Year 8 students. Walking into a Tuesday afterschool session there is a buzz of activity with Year 8 students (mentees) and university students (mentors) gathered in pairs and groups working on projects, chatting or playing sports outside together.

For a couple of hours each week, it’s a positive way for the school to give students the space and opportunity to belong to something purposeful for them. Whether this is getting extra help with their schoolwork, gaining self-confidence they never had before, or learning about potential future pathways with their university mentor.

Yvonne O’Brien, teacher and Team Leader for Year 7/8 at Mangere East Primary School stresses MATES is not a behaviour programme. “There are other programmes for students with behavioural issues. MATES at our school is for students who want to learn. Students must want to be part of MATES and aspire to be mentored by university students for extra schoolwork and find out what it’s like at university.”

As well as providing tutoring, Yvonne says what the school values about MATES is how effective it is at supporting the student’s well-being. Mentors and mentees are matched for common interests and hobbies. For mentees being able to talk to someone who they can relate to and ask for advice knowing that what they discuss won’t be reported is a huge benefit.

Mentee Arahina says she likes how you can get close to someone. She has made new friends and learnt about university. Arahina has huge dreams – she would like to be a cardiothoracic surgeon or a Formula One racing driver. Her mentor, Alex says she was extremely quiet when they first met, and it has taken time for Arahina to open up to people she is unfamiliar with. Alex has been organising activities that help boost confidence and today they’re trying karaoke, something Arahina wouldn’t have done at the start of the year!

For mentee Daisha, being able to experience lots of new fun activities such as cooking with her mentor, Emily has been the best part of MATES. She aspires to be a heart surgeon so having Emily to help her learn new ways to find the answers in maths has been helpful.

Emily has found as she has tailored activities more towards what Daisha is into, she has been able to connect with her more.  “As Daisha has learnt that I’m coming back every week and that I’m here for her, she is more like, what are we doing this week, more engaged with it, as we are working towards goals versus it being very surface level at the start.” Emily has enjoyed being there for Daisha and admits being a MATES mentor has also helped her grow in confidence.

Yvonne says her students look forward to the sessions and she doesn’t have to chase anyone up to attend because they’re motivated to take part. “Kids that come on this programme absolutely love it. It’s a bit of art, a bit of work, a bit of eating, socialising and sport – it’s a bit of everything.”