This week was a big week for mentoring at Pass It Along. We kicked things off on Saturday where we headed down to South 17th Street Elementary School in Newark for our new Saturday School program. Twenty volunteers attended and worked with twenty-five South 17th St. students, preparing them for their state testing in May. Twyla, the Communities in Schools Site Coordinator, selected students who have struggled academically. We were introduced to the students and then paired off with a mentor. Each volunteer had no more than 2 students to work with. Students brought their own homework and for those that did not, their teachers supplied them with work.
As I walked around the room listening in on mentor-mentee conversations I could feel the kids opening up. One volunteer approached me telling me her students hadn’t eaten yet for the day, Twyla immediately ran to her office and gave them her own personal snacks. As time passed the need for our help became more and more apparent. While each mentor-mentee relationship was different the feedback was the same; all volunteers left feeling like they had given back and really accomplished something.
The students also said that they were getting a lot out of it. Throughout the morning relationships were formed; a student even asked me if she could get the same mentor next time we came. Sometimes we just need to get out of our routine comfort zone and open our minds to what’s really going on elsewhere. It’s hard to believe that, in America, schools can still be without books and basic school supplies. It takes an opportunity like this one to realize that the need really exists and we are so lucky to be a part of this new program. Twyla emailed me a few days later and she summed up the experience perfectly:
“That moment in time has fostered new hope and belief of academic success in our youth to strive for better performance in school.”
After an inspiring weekend I was so prepared for our next mentoring program starting on Monday. Our newest local mentoring program is being held every Monday at the Merriam Avenue Elementary School. This program was opened up to primarily Newton High School students. We organized the program with the school guidance counselor, Deidre Iuliani and she selected the students based on various needs. Some of these needs included academic support, issues with focusing and social and behavioral issues.
Eight Newton High School students participated and worked with nine 4th grade students from Merriam Ave. We started the day off with name games and ice breakers. The students took to our volunteers within minutes and were already claiming their buddies. We broke out into group play where volunteers and students played games, built with Legos and got to know each other. Lastly, we finished with homework help. Some students who had been identified as students in need of additional academic support worked one on one with a volunteer and few students worked in small groups.
As usual, I was amazed with our volunteers and their willingness and enthusiasm in this program. They took these students under their wing and by the time we were leaving there were hugs all around.
To me, mentoring programs make such a huge impact on young students and these two new programs are a true testament to that. Each program ended in extremely high spirits with volunteers and mentees saying heartfelt goodbyes and already talking about the next time they’d see each other. I am so happy to be a part of both of these programs and I see so many more opportunities coming out of this. As we look to the next few sessions, and our third mentoring program at Franklin Elementary, I can honestly say that I know we will be making a difference with these kids, whether its academic or social. Our volunteers represent the best that we have here at Pass It Along and with their help these students will truly be impacted. For now, let the mentoring madness begin!
-Written by Alyssa Ciesla, AmeriCorps Program Associate
Click here to volunteer for one of our upcoming mentoring program dates.