The Power of Mentorshipby Christina Franks • May 25, 2017 Share:
It’s 4 p.m. on a Thursday. The Mall is pretty quiet and fairly empty because most students are done with classes, finishing labs, or preparing for practice.
A yellow school bus parks in front of Detchon Center and campus gets quite a bit louder as 40 fourth and fifth graders from Hoover Elementary, or “Little Buddies” race off the bus to see their Wabash College student mentors for the weekly College Mentors for Kids meeting.
“They bring so much energy and enthusiasm, and I love it,” Daniel Thompson ’17 said. “I actually feed off their energy.”
Thompson was the President of College Mentors for Kids for the 2016-17 school year. When he joined his freshman year, there were only 20 Little Buddies and the activities weren’t as well thought out.
Fast forward to today, the elementary students experience something new on the Wabash campus almost every week. They still play outside (and have some intense paper airplane contests!), but the Wabash students want to make sure their Little Buddies are learning, too.
Each activity is focused on culture, community service, or higher learning in an effort to broaden these elementary students’ horizons. As a group, the College Mentors for Kids chapter has worked with Wabash College professors to form a drum circle and dissect a shark. They have played around with coding and experienced bugs in a new way thanks to an entomologist from Purdue University.
“It makes me really happy to see the kids interacting with the things that they didn’t even know existed,” Thompson said. “It makes what we’re doing really exciting.”
Though structure has certainly helped the chapter in its recent success, Thompson said that he made sure every Wabash student he recruited to be a mentor really wanted to make a difference.
“Most of our guys have had some sort of experience that has drawn them to College Mentors for Kids because they know the power of mentorship – they know the impact that they can have on these kids’ lives,” Thompson said. “When I was a kid, I had a big brother through Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and I personally know the power that mentorship can have. It’s why I joined the club when I was a freshman and why I want to make sure everyone we recruit has somewhat of the same goal.”
Thompson’s mentor’s name was Justin. He was raised with a single mother who wanted a male role model for him. So from the ages of 9 to 13, Thompson spent time with Justin at least every other week.
That relationship, Thompson said, built his confidence and helped him understand what he needed to do to be successful.
Those are the same results that Hoover Elementary School Counselor Bonita Hirsch continues to see from the Little Buddies year after year.
“They have a sense of belonging to something they feel is important, and I see a level of maturity that comes from them,” Hirsch said. “They get to have a lot of experiences that they would never, ever have otherwise, and they get to have positive role models. I don’t want to discount the boys who have wonderful male role models at home or within their families, but overall, these young men at Wabash are providing role models for that these students desperately need.”
Each time the mentors and Little Buddies meet, time is set aside for them to simply talk. Sometimes, it’s about sports and school. Other times, as the elementary school students shared, they open up about real issues they’re facing.
“We get to talk about stuff like if we’re having problems at home because I live with all girls,” fifth-grader Jacob said.
“My mentor is like a big brother,” fifth-grader Tyler agreed. “If you need something, he’s always going to be there.”
One of the ways that College Mentors for Kids differs from other mentoring programs is that its main focus is making sure these elementary students know that college is attainable for them. As Hirsch pointed out, this may be the first time some of the Little Buddies are meeting a man who has gone to college.
“My favorite part of being involved is knowing that I'm helping to give a kid something that I didn't have,” Brady Quackenbush ’18 said, who will be the president for the 2017-18 school year. “I love knowing that there are 40 kids who may have never thought about college who are now being told that people believe in them.”
When Thompson was younger, he was in the same boat as many of these students. He knew about college but didn’t think it was option for him. But he’s where he is today because of his mentoring relationships, and he wants the same for the Little Buddies.
“I want them to realize that there’s a life outside of anything they can currently imagine,” he said. “They can go to college – that resources exist to give them money to get there. There are all these options that are so new to these kids. This organization plants that seed for these kids so that when they start hearing about scholarships a few years down the road, it’s not the first time they’re hearing about it.”
It might be years before these fourth and fifth graders realize that they learned more from College Mentors for Kids than what their weekly activities taught them. For now, it’s mostly just a lot of excitement.
“I think Little Buddies is a lot more interesting than what I would do on a Thursday,” fourth-grader Jordan said. “It is the pure definition of fun!”