What can happen in just an hour a week? Amanda Severin is frank about the challenges and benefits she has experienced as a Boston Partners academic mentor. In 2012, Amanda was matched with a bright student at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School who was physically disabled and spoke English as a second language. Despite the language barrier, the pair formed a deep connection over the hours, weeks, and years they worked together at the Quincy.

“Working with [her] was special because she is someone who doesn’t always need the most help behaviorally or academically. She wasn’t quite mainstream, but she was in a much stronger position than her classroom,” says Amanda. “She loves school, she loves math, and she is great at what she does, but doesn’t always have the most confidence. She’s a twin and from an immigrant family, so sometimes relating to her peers was a little bit of challenge.”

It wasn’t until after a year of mentoring that Amanda learned her student spoke English as a second language. Though Amanda feels that she could have made more academic gains for her student with that knowledge, her teacher, Mark Sacco, explained that student needed a different kind of help.

“I think more than anything, socially, you’re really helpful for her development,” Mr. Sacco told Amanda. “You’re an adult friend, mentor, role model who she can work with academically, but also talk about things personally, and at a little higher level than her classmates.”

Mr. Sacco, understanding the friendship that was developing, encouraged its growth by letting the pair use his email account to communicate when Amanda had to miss a mentoring session. He also invited Amanda to the student’s graduation, where she met the student’s family.

“They invited me over for a Lebanese meal,” recalls Amanda. “Her mother is an amazing cook. I got to learn about her family, see where she lived, and talk about the challenges of finding the right schooling for her.”

Since then, Amanda’s student has created an email account and the two stay in contact. She is frequently updated about the happenings at her student’s new school—a middle school that was not as accessible for Amanda to reach to during her work day. “We email back and forth, and she tells me about what’s going on at school,” she describes. “That’s been really, really, fun.”

The experience gave Amanda a look into the Boston Public Schools and the challenges they sometimes face. She explains: “I was very good at being a student, but teaching is a whole different world. You can be good at any number of subjects, but teaching them is something else. I gained a lot of respect for teachers and humility in what my abilities were and how much I could help.

I also gained a friend, and a new perspective because her family is Lebanese and Syrian. I learned a lot culturally. I learned what a Boston Public School is really like, and learned what a successful urban school is like, which is encouraging because in the news and press you tend to see a lot more bad than good.”

What makes Boston Partners’ academic mentors, like Amanda, so potent is their flexibility—each mentor takes on a different role for different students in the school year. In Amanda’s case, cultural differences weren’t enough to slow a lasting friendship. She is even hoping to resume working with her student once she enters high school. We look forward to learning what else the pair can accomplish in just an hour each week.