Beyond Expectations: A Learning Journey for both Mentor and Mentee

Beyond Expectations began in 2018 as a mentoring initiative by NUS students serving as mentors for 13 to 17-year-old youths from our Redhill rental communities. The initiative has gone a long way and has since expanded and diversified its mentor pool to include students from other local universities. In this short interview, we ask the team more about how the initiative began and why it is meaningful. 

1. Could you give me a brief description of Beyond Expectations—what are its aims, what the team does, and who it serves? 

Beyond Expectations is a mentoring initiative in collaboration with Beyond Social Services (BSS). We engage less privileged youths aged 13-17, from BSS who are living in the Redhill rental flat estates. Many of our youths lack access to equal educational resources, which puts them at a disadvantage compared to their peers. We aim to empower our youths who face challenges in accessing educational resources, such as attending tuition centres, through free weekly tuition sessions. The programme direction has also developed to integrate greater holistic development, honing our mentees’ soft skills through experiential activities.  
 
2. How did the idea for Beyond Expectations come about? 

The initial concept of this project came after a volunteering stint in the Henderson rental housing area that made use of crafts and play to teach children English and basic cognitive skills. During the session, the pioneer batch of mentors encountered older students (primary 4 and above) who faced difficulties in stringing basic sentences together to coherently express their thoughts. This poor grasp of the English language was then associated with their slower learning pace in school.  
 
A senior social worker at BSS also mentioned that students often disliked school because of the learning gap between them and their peers, which is further widened by their inability to afford personalised tuition. With this in mind, a programme was devised which could meet the real needs of the community, while still bringing learning value to our volunteers.  
 
Hence, relationship-based mentoring was employed as it was an ideal model that allowed volunteers and youths to directly engage within a safe, controlled and nurturing environment. At the same time, given a strong bond with a dedicated mentor, youths are also likelier to enjoy academic tutoring. 

3. How long has Beyond Expectations been in operation? 

The programme was founded in 2018 and was originally based in the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT), with NUS students as mentors. We have since expanded and diversified our mentor pool, with full-time students from different local universities as well as working adults. 

4. How does Beyond Expectations function differently from other volunteering initiatives? 

As a ground-up initiative, there is ample flexibility for the team to define the programme direction. Mentors get to be at the forefront in planning weekly sessions based on their own ideas and interests. Mentors are also given more autonomy in defining and progressing their mentor-mentee relationships; in past iterations of the programme, many mentors and mentees have met beyond weekly sessions to catch up over meals or have study sessions together. Both sides have taken the extra step to strengthen the mentor-mentee relationship, including organising outings such as going to IKEA together and an intertidal walk at Changi Beach. 

5. Have there been any interesting/notable experiences worth sharing? 

One heartwarming moment would be during our final mentoring session of 2021, where we bade farewell to senior mentors who were leaving the program. Many mentees, including those who were usually more reserved and shy, stepped out of their comfort zone to give a toast and thank the mentoring team. Not only did it provide a sense of reward and gratitude to our mentoring team, but it also signaled the success of the program in developing our youths, both academically and emotionally. 

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