It’s National Mentoring Month, a time to focus national attention on the need for mentors, and work together to ensure positive outcomes for our young people. At Boston Partners in Education, we refer to our volunteers as academic mentors, caring adults who not only tutor students, but build a bond with them over time. The story below captures the mentoring moments that occur when you volunteer in a Boston Public Schools classroom.* 

*Please note: Volunteering at the McKinley is slightly different experience than our standard academic mentoring opportunities.

When you walk the halls of the McKinley South End Academy, it appears to be a typical city public school. But take a deeper look and you’ll realize it’s so much more than a school… it’s a community.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote

Inspirational quotes line the halls of the McKinley School

The McKinley is an alternative school for students with emotional, behavioral, and learning challenges. In order to meet the needs of each unique student, the school provides a wide range of academic programs and support services on-site. McKinley’s teachers and staff are exceptional people– extremely dedicated to enhancing the physical and mental health of all students.

One of those educators is Charlie Burke, Assistant Program Director. Mr. Burke has been at the McKinley for nearly 31 years and has been using Boston Partners’ volunteers in his classrooms since 2003. This partnership consistently provided him with trained, responsible volunteers, but recently Mr. Burke got more than he bargained for. After seeing three incredible academic mentors in action, he then added a few more staff members to the McKinley family. These new full-time staff members are Mai Alumran, Michelle Ventura and Ashley Carnathan, all former psychology students of Professor Schim at Boston University (BU).

“All of them started through Boston Partners in Education as volunteers and we recently hired all three,” said Mr. Burke. “And I could just tell wonderful stories about each one of them.”

Mai Alumran:
During her time at BU, Mai Alumran knew she wanted to work with kids after graduation, but didn’t have applicable experience. So her professor recommended volunteering at the McKinley through Boston Partners.  After Mai got started volunteering the minimum commitment of two hours* a week, she was hooked and began volunteering 3-4 hours a day.

“I really liked the kids from the first day, so I just started volunteering more,” Ms. Alumran said.

Mai’s effect on the students was equally powerful. For example, Charlie attributed one particular success story to Ms. Alumran.

Charlie Burke and Mai Alumran

Charlie Burke and Mai Alumran, former Boston Partners volunteer turned McKinley employee

“There was one girl in particular that just loves Mai so much,” said Mr. Burke. “This girl was one of our most difficult students last year – but she loved Mai. She failed all last year, but we had statistical proof that if Mai was here, she was in class, on track. Now this year, this girl got the biggest trophy for most improved student overall.”

As for Mai herself, she believes that every psychology student should have hands-on volunteer experience in order to supplement what they learn in class.

“I would say that volunteering here was actually the best thing I’ve ever done, the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m not joking,” said Ms. Alumran. “I think I’ve learned more in a year than I have in four years of undergrad.”

Ashley Carnathan:
Ashley Carnathan never thought that her psychology degree would lead her to a teaching career. Now in her second year at the McKinley, she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I did really enjoy psychology – I was thinking more counseling and that sort of thing, so I volunteered one full summer here, and then the next year I had gotten a paid position,” said Ms. Carnathan.

Mr. Burke was very impressed with the strength and resilience Ashley showed as a volunteer; he knew she’d be a good fit… even if she was unsure of it herself!

“Ashley has been my rock in the classroom,” said Mr. Burke. “There has been a shift of staff and kids around her, but she has been the constant, and kids really know that they can trust her and rely on her. She’s very good at setting limits, but she’s also very nurturing.”

While Ashley says she finds working at the McKinley very enjoyable and fulfilling, it’s also hard work.

“Working in a school is really challenging, and it can kind of wear on you a little bit, so it’s important to get that experience with different students in the Boston Public Schools,” said Ms. Carnathan. “I would highly recommend just trying it out while you’re in school, just to see if it’s something you’re interested in.”

Ashley Carnathan (left) and Michelle Ventura (right) McKinley student

Ashley Carnathan (left) and Michelle Ventura (right) share a smile with a McKinley student

Michelle Ventura:
Michelle Ventura was in her second year of volunteering at the McKinley, when a chain of events landed her a full-time job.

“After graduating, when you’re looking for a job it’s always the scariest,” Ms. Ventura said. “Luckily, the opportunity to work here came up. Through the [Boston Partners] program, they already knew me in the classroom, so it was a much easier process because I had that background of volunteering.”

Mr. Burke recalled a story of a student with a harrowing track record, a girl who was going to ‘tear the school upside down and inside out.’ The student took an immediate shine to Ms. Ventura, however, and Mr. Burke said she has done an unbelievable job to keep this girl in check.

“The McKinley is a very special school – a lot of the students have a lot of different, special needs that need to be attended to, so that’s why I thought this was a perfect school where I could volunteer so I could help them,” said Ms. Ventura. “Right from the beginning you could see what a reward it was. One of the boys attached to me right away so he would always look forward to seeing me from week to week.”

It’s true that mentors can truly change the lives of the young people they work with. And in most cases, including at the McKinley, the mentor is getting something out of it too. To learn more about our academic mentoring programs in Boston Public Schools,  please visit