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Sparking curiosity and passion through mentorship

How College Mentors for Kids engages with elementary students in the Charlottesville community to build meaningful relationships and stimulate intellectual development

CMK chapters partner with local elementary schools and rely on school administrators to invite the students they think would benefit most from a mentor.
CMK chapters partner with local elementary schools and rely on school administrators to invite the students they think would benefit most from a mentor.

From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, University students involved in College Mentors for Kids’ University of Virginia Chapter meet with young students from local Clark Elementary School and Mary C. Greer Elementary School. During these meetings, mentors engage with elementary students through bonding activities to stimulate their curiosity and ignite their passions.

CMK chapters partner with local elementary schools and rely on school administrators to invite the students they think would benefit most from a mentor. In alignment with their belief that all kids deserve to have access to enriching afterschool programming, CMK offers its program free of cost to participating students.  

University student volunteers are then paired with elementary students into buddy pairs. The pairs foster relationships through a variety of activities that CMK plans over the course of an academic year. These activities are not meant to provide kids with tutoring in academic fields, though. Instead, as Andrew Carey, second-year Engineering student and general manager at CMK, emphasized, the club’s primary goal is to spark curiosity and excitement for learning and open doors to opportunities.

“The whole takeaway each activity day is to have the kids leave with something that they learned whether they were familiar with [it or not],” Carey said. “If we talk about a [new] topic, and now they’re more interested or if it's their first time doing an activity or learning about something, then we hope that [they remain] interested going into the future.”

These activities range from chemistry experiments and environmental education to lemonade stands and cultural events. All are designed with the purpose of cultivating new interests and further developing current ones. 

Colin Dockter, president of CMK and second-year College student, said even simple and fun activities — such as making slime — provide an underlying foundation for educational interests. 

“When [we’re] making slime, the little buddies are putting together all [of it],” Dockter said. They're mixing all the chemicals, and you have the mentor there who has a role of supporting them, measuring stuff out, explaining perhaps the impact of science [and] science related careers. The kids can have fun with a little bit of education.”

Besides the exposure to different fields of study and areas of interest the mentorship provides, the little buddies also learn about college. For many of them, college is not something that they are inherently familiar with. 

Frances Baldridge, engagements manager for CMK and second-year College student, said the mentors provide insight into what life at a college could look like. As a counselor, Baldridge attempts to build a meaningful relationship with her little buddy. 

“We show them the importance of education and what education can do,” Baldridge said. “We act as a support system for them, so we really value [both mentors and mentees] showing up every week to kind of give them an older figure in their lives.”

Pairing University students with local elementary kids offers a unique opportunity for people who wouldn’t have otherwise interacted to bond together. Thus, on the other side of the same coin, mentors at CMK also gain exposure to something they may not be so familiar with — the broader Charlottesville community. 

Grounds and its surrounding areas are very much a part of Charlottesville, but Baldridge said that sometimes it feels as though students are more cut off from the greater Charlottesville community.

“Now, I feel like we don't really see like elementary school kids and stuff anymore,” Baldridge said. “We're kind of in this constrained environment of all college kids. But it's good to remember the community around us. We don't really get to explore Charlottesville as a whole. [CMK is] kind of showing what's just beyond our Grounds.”

At the end of the day, CMK offers a fresh change from the usual University student routine that students experience every day. Emily Loy, CMK mentor and second-year Education student, has the same little buddy as she did last year. As a result, she has been able to relish in the experience of not only interacting with her little buddy once a week, but also watching him develop, which is ultimately the goal of CMK — to inspire growth, confidence and brighter futures. 

“It [is] just so rewarding,” Loy said. “I can see the changes that he's made with himself. He seems so much more confident and … I've seen him be a lot more social with the other kids in the program. So [it’s] been really exciting to see [the] shift in his enthusiasm and excitement.”