On a Friday afternoon at TS Cooper Elementary School in Sunbury, North Carolina, nearly 40 fourth- and fifth-grade boys sat down with male mentors from the Gates County community and opened the first page of Dwayne Reed Simon B. Rhymin’.
Mentors from the Enhanced Wildcats (MEOW) group continued to meet for the remainder of March and April. Every Friday, they read another chapter. Since TS Cooper Elementary has only one male teacher, members of the Gates County Community Partnership, along with the Gates County principal, high school teachers, and even County Executive Barry Williams, serve as mentors to the students.
Lisa Wilkins ’22MED, teacher and instructional support coach at TS Cooper, said, “It’s all about men reading, it’s really cool to have these relationships, and every male mentor has shared their stories.” In New Literature and Global Learning – Reading education last semester.
Wilkins was inspired to start the mentoring program while attending ECI 508: Teachers as Leaders with Associate Professor Jill Grifenhagen.
Wilkins spent more than two decades teaching classics such as Charlotte’s Web, but as much as she loved those books, Griffin Hagen’s class made her want to try something different.when she noticed Simon B. Lemming On Scholastic’s website for $1 each, she bought 42. She then reached out to the Gates County Community Partnership, as well as other male mentors in the school district, to launch a mentoring program.
The goal of the program is to help students develop positive relationships with male mentors through reading and to provide a friendly environment in which this can happen.
“It’s all about building relationships,” Wilkin said. “The students are never put on the spot because we all know our students are not as developed as everyone else, so if they feel that way, they don’t have to read.”
In the last class, each student was given a kite, which they assembled and flew with their tutors.
“Some of them had never flown a kite before,” Wilkins said. “It’s really, really amazing.”
For students, the mentorship program becomes a way for them to break the routine with something new and exciting. Wilkins knew this urge very well, and it was the same urge that inspired her to pursue a graduate degree.
“Once you teach for a while, you say, ‘I need something to refresh that spirit,'” Wilkins said. “To refresh that spirit, I applied to a master’s degree program at North Carolina State University.”
In the program, Wilkins was exposed to new ideas that broadened her perspective on education.
“Sometimes you think everyone teaches just like you and is in the same environment as you,” Wilkins said. “Then when you enter a class and a colleague of mine who works in the class says her school has 60 different languages, I sit here thinking I don’t even know there are 60 languages.”
She also learned techniques that allowed her to increase her influence on her students.
“Everything aligns and meshes with each other, giving you a real sense of how you can help your child learn to read,” Wilkins said.
These tips came in handy when Wilkins, again inspired by her teacher class as a leader, decided to do a poetry activity with 12 students. The 12 students then submitted their poems to the Young Writers Program, and each of them are now published authors.
“We have a traffic light all over the town, the entire county, so we’re very active,” Wilkins said. “We’re like tractors and farmers and things like that, just making kids feel like they’re important, which is awesome.”
Poetry events, as well as the MEOW Groups Mentoring Program, are a way for Wilkins to use what she learned at the North Carolina School of Education to further spark her love of literacy.
“I definitely think the spark is there right now,” Wilkins said. “This [MEOW Groups students] Been begging, “Can I take this book home?”
After the mentoring plan was completed, each student received their own copy Simon B. Rhymin’read anytime.