On Thursdays, second and third graders at John B. Drake Elementary School are eager to finish their lunch and come in from recess. Not unusual behavior when you consider that waiting for them on the other end is the one-on-one attention and encouragement they receive from weekly tutoring sessions – 45-minute stretches that strengthen both reading skills and personal relationships.
Called the Mid Day Mentoring Program, the initiative is run by Working in the Schools (WITS), a local nonprofit that works to bridge the achievement and opportunity gap for underserved students by building connections with positive adult role models from business, law and other professions.
The program is new to Drake Elementary, and its volunteer programs are a favorite of second-year principal Keshia Warner. “I’m very passionate about this program,” she said. “Since coming to Drake, I’ve increased our involvement with WITS from one program to four.”
The overall goal of the Mid Day Mentoring Program is to foster a love of literacy among the students, who meet with the same tutor each week. Tutors read aloud to the students, work with them to improve their reading aloud skills, and help them with shared writing exercises with their tutors.
“For students who are struggling, reading out loud in front of their whole class can cause a lot of anxiety,” said Warner. “Practicing reading with their tutor is less intimidating, so confidence builds and fluency improves.”
Warner calls the program’s early results exciting. “The kids are very enthusiastic about their tutors,” she said. “They look forward to seeing them each week and are eager to show the progress they’ve made.”
And the effect is more than just academic. According to Warner, the emotional bond being created between adult and child is just as important. “A lot of our students come from large families, so getting to spend one-on-one time with an adult who is interested only in them is a really positive thing,” she said.
The executives seem to feel the bond as well. “It’s very rewarding,” said Jim Dimitriou, an executive with Tatum Corporation who volunteers at Drake and heads the volunteer efforts at his workplace. “It feels good to give back to the community in such a personal way. Spending a lunch hour with these kids is so much better than just writing a check.”
Dimitriou’s student is a third grader by the name of Omarion. “He’s so excited to see me every week,” said Dimitriou. “I like just talking to him. He tells me about his week, and asks me a lot of questions about my work, where I live, and about my life.”
Dimitriou enjoys that curiosity, and sees the conversations as opportunities to expand his young charge’s horizons. “I want him to know that there’s a big world out there, and that if he works hard in school, he can do anything he wants to do,” said Dimitriou.
Principal Warner feels that both the students and volunteers are sincerely enjoying the partnership, and she hopes that the adults are finding it as rewarding an experience as the students. Employees at the law firm of K&L Gates also volunteer through the Mid Day Mentoring Program.
“The executives tell me it’s a nice break from the corporate world, especially if they don’t have kids themselves,” she said. “It’s a chance for them to give something back while seeing how a neighborhood school really works.”
Dimitriou admits that it required a bit of arm twisting in the beginning, but says his co-workers now look forward to their weekly tutoring sessions. “We’re as excited to see the kids as they are to see us,” he said. “It’s not a chore at all. Everyone is so glad we decided to do it.”