School Volunteer Program volunteer Karleigh Rose Pettit shares her experience as a volunteer academic mentor in the Boston Public Schools.
In a previous blog entry, a Boston Partners in Education volunteer mentioned that Tuesdays are the best day of her week. Me? I love Mondays – Monday mornings to be more specific. Don’t get me wrong, I love weekends just as much as everyone else, but I started each week working with a little girl named Nellymar.
I started working with Nelly while serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer in 2009. The program I coordinated matched older adults with students to work on their reading skills and, at 22 years old, I didn’t quite fit the profile of a typical volunteer. Nelly was in kindergarten that year and was going through a really tough time. She repeatedly acted out in her after-school reading program and refused to work with any of the older adult volunteers. One day, my fellow corps member asked me to sit with Nelly to keep her from disrupting the other students. Something clicked; we read every princess book we could get our hands on and were inseparable through the remainder of the school year.
When I began working full-time for Boston Partners in 2010, I was able to continue working with Nelly through the School Volunteer Program. I introduced myself to Nelly’s first grade teacher and asked if I could continue to read to her once a week. Through ongoing conversations with the teacher, I learned that Nelly didn’t feel like a part of the community at school and would often detach from the rest of the class during lessons. I hoped that my continued visits would provide at least some of the support she needed.
This fall, Nelly will enter the third grade having made incredible strides in both reading and her own self-esteem. Working with Nelly directly in the classroom this year and seeing her work next to her peers was an eye-opening experience for me. She started the year disinterested and struggling with basic sight words, but by the end, her eyes lit up after completing a particularly long passage.
Nelly’s teacher invited me to a class play at the end of the school year that was performed for parents and other family members. I was thrilled to have this opportunity to see Nelly read aloud and eagerly accepted the offer. After the play ended, Nelly introduced me to her relatives as “the girl who helps me read.” I realized in that moment that our time together had become more than just sharing stories with this incredibly sweet little girl – it was an extra hour each week in which Nelly had someone to help her focus on skills that are essential to her academic success. It was the first time I truly understood what the term “academic mentor” really meant.
I know Nelly receives lots of academic support during the school day to which her progress can probably be more directly attributed, but I like to think that I’ve contributed something special – as an academic mentor and as a friend.
Through the School Volunteer Program you can help a student of any age with English or math. The time commitment is only one hour a week. Apply online here.