When Wendell Williams’ grandson was four years old, he told Wendell that reading was for suckers. Wendell, a long-time academic mentor with Boston Partners in Education’s program, Math Rules!, was unwilling to let his grandson grow up with such a negative attitude toward learning. He spent the next decade pushing his grandson to read and do well in school.
Today, Wendell’s grandson is an academically-focused high school sophomore who plays on his school’s basketball team. Wendell still makes sure he reads with all three of his grandkids every time he visits them.
Wendell believes that all students need the same supportive intervention that he gave to his grandson. Many of the Boston Public Schools students he meets come home from school to an empty house because their parents have to work. With no one around to encourage the kids to do their school work, it rarely gets done, and they start to fall behind in class.
That’s where Boston Partners’ academic mentoring program comes in. Volunteers like Wendell spend time in the classroom helping students who need a little extra push to succeed in school. “My students can relate to me and allow me to be that positive role model,” he says. His favorite part of being a mentor is seeing his students light up when they figure out the correct answer. For Wendell, that learning experience is mutual. “They teach me patience and tolerance,” he says.
Wendell has seen firsthand what can happen to young people who don’t get support. After serving in Vietnam as a young man, Wendell worked as a maximum security prison guard for 30 years. Describing the impact of that experience he says, “I saw many prisoners who had dropped out of school early and never finished or cared about their education.” Wendell believes that showing interest in children’s education early in their lives will help them to prevent such a future.
In 2010, Wendell retired, but he loves being able to stay busy with mentoring. “I tell my retired friends about the program all the time!” he says. It’s a great opportunity to offer critical guidance to kids who need it. Boston Partners has helped Wendell feel empowered to help students. He also has a positive relationship with the school community he serves. “I feel supported and welcomed at the school,” he said. “The students really appreciate my help and welcome me every time I come into the classroom.”
They aren’t the only ones who appreciate Wendell’s help. All of us at Boston Partners in Education are so grateful for the wonderful volunteers in our programs. We know our academic mentors are making a difference in children’s lives every time they meet with their students!