Boston Partners in Education was honored to present the John C. Rennie Mentor of the Year Award to Kathy Weld at the 2019 AMP! awards celebration. Since 2015, Kathy has been a fixture in David Russell’s classroom at the McKinley South End Academy, one of four McKinley Schools within the Boston Public Schools that provides special education for students in kindergarten through grade 12.

While Boston Partners mentors aim to help students who could benefit from more individualized attention in the classroom during the school day, mentoring at the McKinley South End Academy is different than the typical Boston Partners volunteer experience. The school focuses on the emotional, behavioral, and learning needs of its students using a highly-structured behavior management system.

Kathy simply wanted to make a difference in the lives of these students in her neighborhood and has put in hundreds of hours of volunteer time to understand how best to serve them. Her compassion, empathy, and patience in the classroom have allowed Kathy to make meaningful connections with her students and the entire McKinley school community.

“For kids at our school, placement there can come with some negative baggage,” says Mr. Russell. “I’ve heard, ‘We’re the bad kids,’ ‘Nobody cares about us,’ and so on. What we try to do is push very hard with counter messages.” For students who receive a lot of messages about the ways that they’re not doing well and might not succeed, it’s a powerful message having someone from their community come into their classroom each week and tell them that they believe in them. Kathy takes this concept a giant step further — she doesn’t just tell Mr. Russell’s students that she believes in them, she proves it with her commitment.

Her special connection to the school isn’t simply the result of personalities meshing. Kathy spends more time working with students than Boston Partners volunteers typically do — much more, in fact. For over three years, Kathy has been mentoring two or more days a week for three or more hours each day! According to Mr. Russell, more important than the quantity of her work, in the countless hours that Kathy has spent in his classroom, is the quality.

“Kathy Weld is in a category of her own,” said Mr. Russell. “She doesn’t just put in time — she’s exemplary in her willingness to do anything, and for her flexibility, her insight, her compassion, and good humor.”

According to Mr. Russell, Kathy is exceptionally good at seeing the big picture in the class. She is adept at building relationships with challenging students — and while most mentors work with a particular student, Kathy works with anyone. “I assign her to various roles as I do my classroom assistants because she is so broadly effective,” says Mr. Russell.

Kathy benefits from the time in the classroom as well, particularly when she sees a student finally connecting with the material. “For me, the most fulfilling part of my volunteering is seeing the “lightbulb” go on in a student’s eyes when he or she finally understands a math concept or is able to associate two different stories because of a common theme,” says Kathy. “Seeing them grasp an idea with which they’ve been struggling is icing on the cake!”

When Mr. Russell informed his class that Kathy would be named Mentor of the Year back in April, his students were so proud and excited that they decided to throw Kathy a surprise party. The students decorated the room, made her posters, and compiled a Powerpoint presentation with pictures to show their appreciation. It was a wonderful reminder that mentorship often transcends academics. We’re so proud of Kathy for the special relationships she’s formed in Mr. Russell’s classroom.