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Lamont Students Adopt Local Middle School

For some local middle school students, it’s the first time they’ve ever worked with a college student.

When several Lamont House residents head to John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton each week to assist teachers there in a variety of activities, they provide an example of academic focus and success that the younger students can emulate. The Smith students work with JFK students on writing projects, classroom work, and on extra-curricular activities in the after-school enrichment program.

The program began last year when residents of Lamont House “adopted” John F. Kennedy Middle School as a place to conduct community service. Working through the Office of Educational Outreach, the students formed a partnership with the school in which they are matched with teachers in their areas of interest. Several students resumed the partnership this year.

“These college students become mentors to our kids,” said Kathleen McKenna, the retired chair of the middle school’s guidance department, who acts as a liaison between the school and the Smith program. “Our students form a connection with the college students and develop a sense of trust with them. They get excited about learning when they get to know the Smith students. And if they’re excited about learning, then their achievement will follow.”

The partnership with JFK Middle School is a response to a request from Leslie Wilson, the principal of JFK, to bring more students to her school, explained Gail Scordilis, director of educational outreach. It follows recent efforts by Doug Winsor, partnership and outreach coordinator in the Office of Educational Outreach, to increase and deepen interactions among Smith students, faculty and staff with students and staff in Northampton’s public schools.

For the Smith student volunteers, the program reminds them of their own middle school years, not so far removed.

“I've really gained a lot from my experience at JFK because I was able to remember what middle school was like for me and try to carry that over and help others,” said Sara Bolduc ’08, who volunteered with the program last year and is participating again this year. “The students really seemed to value someone listening to them and taking an interest in what they were doing.”

“I think we were able to be role models for the JFK students,” said Kathryn Freeman ’10, who is also participating in the program for the second year. “Thinking back on my middle school years I would have loved to have had someone a little older to talk to about how I was feeling or what I was doing.”

Before being matched with teachers as their assistants, the Lamont residents completed questionnaires designating their areas of knowledge and skills, such as writing, reading, math, science, engineering and history, McKenna said. She then partnered JFK teachers with students who had corresponding interests to their subject areas.

And though the participating Lamonters assist in the classroom, their volunteer work extends beyond schoolbooks.

“Last year I helped in an English classroom during the day and in the baking after-school program,” recalls Bolduc, who is considering teaching as a profession after Smith. “It was very interesting to be able to work with the children during the day as well as after school, when the ‘rules’ didn’t apply to them anymore. After school, the students really liked to be in charge of their kitchen areas and were always willing to share their yummy baked goodies with us!”

By all accounts, the Smith-JFK partnership has been a success, attracting more students to join as volunteers assisting at the middle school this year and growing beyond Lamont with residents of Capen House and three groups of engineering students.

“This is an incredible opportunity for a college student to give back to the surrounding community,” said Freeman. “Working with younger students is fun and educational.”

Mostly, it’s the students’ presence and the example they set that makes a difference in the JFK students’ lives, say those familiar with the partnership.

“One science teacher [at JFK] said the Smith student she worked with had transformed her class,” said Scordilis.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for students at JFK,” said McKenna. “Students at JFK will be more likely to succeed by working alongside Smith students.”


10/31/07   By Eric Sean Weld
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