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The Perfect Match

Jan 23, 2023

Marsha Chappelow and Katie Souza sitting on stepsTo say that Marsha Chappelow supports education and its power to transform the lives of young people would be an understatement. From her early days teaching English and journalism to serving as superintendent at Ladue Schools in St. Louis, Missouri, she has devoted her life to helping young people reach their full potential.

In June of 2019, when she retired and moved from the Midwest to Sarasota, Florida, Marsha knew she had more to give. She searched the Education Foundation of Sarasota County online and made a note to herself to contact the organization about volunteering possibilities. Then the pandemic hit. Her reminder, like so much during those early uncertain days, was forgotten.

But last spring, she found the note to check in with the Education Foundation. Soon, she was applying to be a mentor and two weeks later learned that she would be paired with Katie Souza, a junior at Suncoast Polytechnical High School.

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In April of 2022, Katie was recognized as a STRIVE Award recipient. These awards celebrate high school juniors and seniors across Sarasota County Schools who have overcome obstacles in their lives to succeed. While Katie never did figure out how she was nominated, she was intrigued by an opportunity that comes with the STRIVE Awards: an invitation to be paired with an Education Foundation mentor.

Katie excels in school, but she is the first in her family to pursue a four-year college degree. She also pushes herself to take challenging courses, and the pressures of doing well academically while pursuing her dreams of a college education and a career in journalism can feel daunting. Katie was excited when she learned that she would be paired with a former teacher who taught the very subject that so captivates her.

Marsha Chappelow and Katie Souza at computers planning for college and careerSoon after they met, Marsha bought identical calendars, holding on to one and giving the other to Katie. They meet twice a month at the Selby Library after school, where they share their calendars and compare notes, ensuring both are synced up so Katie doesn’t miss any deadlines. In this way, Katie has felt more organized as she has navigated the complex process of searching for and applying to colleges.

Marsha has provided practical guidance throughout the application process. She also asks Katie questions that lead her to consider her options from multiple perspectives. “She has me consider everything,” Katie said, “and gives me the best advice. She’s a role model too.” In this way, Marsha has helped Katie think more critically about her own life as she maps out her next journey. And Marsha has been so impressed to see how Katie has grown more reflective and now asks the questions that her mentor used to prompt.

When they finish planning and preparing, the two will, if time permits, walk over to the nearby Starbucks Coffee and share a treat. During these times, Marsha talks about college life and what Katie can expect as she pursues her career. As Katie said, “She’s not just preparing me for college life, but for adulthood.”

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Soon after being paired with Katie, Marsha sent Jeff Blanchette, the mentoring manager at the Education Foundation, a message. “You could not,” she wrote, “have paired me with anyone better.”

In mentoring, Marsha has kept a connection to the younger generation, something important to someone so dedicated to education. She has been challenged to learn more about the college application process and how to find ways for her mentee to pay for schooling. She has learned to become a better listener and has experienced the joys of watching Katie grow—and get accepted into college with a great scholarship.

Through mentoring, Marsha has gained something else. As she said, “We’ve also become friends.”

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January is National Mentoring Month. It is a time to reflect on the power of relationships to change lives and to help more students succeed in life after high school. As Marsha said, “Children are our future… and making better choices for them will make our world better.”

Interested in being an Education Foundation mentor? Learn more.

If you’re a high school junior or senior and could you use extra support as you get ready for life after high school, see if mentoring might be right for you.