Every Monday morning, beginning at 7:30 a.m., 21 Uplift Mighty middle school scholars meet up with 21 Uplift Meridian elementary scholars in the library. What could possibly make scholars want to get up so early to meet up in the library before school starts? The answer is literature. Uplift Mighty and Meridian scholars have been participating in the Barbara Bush Foundation’s Teen Trendsetters Reading Mentors program in order to help younger scholars become more fluent readers.
Since January, the sixth through eighth grade Uplift Mighty scholars have been helping first and second grade Uplift Meridian scholars read various books provided by the Teen Trendsetters program. The younger scholars read out loud to the middle school scholars, sounding out the words as they go and getting tips and help from their middle school mentors.
“They genuinely enjoy it,” said Jeremeka Jarrell, who facilitates the program. “They’re absolutely eating this up. The older scholars love the fact that someone is looking up to them. They’ve been a positive influence for the younger scholars. They were pretty quiet at first but now I see them talking more, laughing and asking questions,” she said.
The Teen Trendsetters program includes training for the mentor scholars and coordinators and provides coordinators with curriculum, software to track progress and books to give to the mentees. With a special focus on science, scholars get to take home the book they read after each mentoring session. This allows scholars to build their at-home library and gives them literature to read at their disposal. This in itself is incredibly important as research has shown that if a child is not reading proficiently by the third grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of high school, according to the Barbara Bush Foundation website. Mentees improve their literacy through the help of their older peers, while the mentors learn how to communicate effectively, give back to their community and bond with their mentee.
“It’s actually turned into something beyond mentoring- I’ll sometimes see the scholars saying hi and chatting with one another in the hallway. They’ve become good friends,” said Ms. Jarrell.
As for the future of Teen Trendsetters at Uplift Mighty, Ms. Jarrell hopes to expand the number of both mentors and mentees. She would also like to include extra activities, like field trips to the aquarium, so that scholars can see the things they are reading about in real life. The program will continue through to the end of this school year and begin again this fall.
According to the Barbara Bush Foundation website, Teen Trendsetters programs have benefited nearly 30,000 students, resulting in over 200,000 volunteer and mentoring hours since its inception in 2002.