A months-long mentorship program between Winston-Salem State University and Cook Literacy Model School culminated in a closing ceremony at the end of April. 

Seventy-nine children participated in the RAMS program, which stands for Radical Academic Mentoring Service.

They first met their mentors, who are WSSU students, back in February. Since then, they've had lunch together at the elementary school every Thursday. 

The program was developed by WSSU Professor Dawn Hicks Tafari in 2016. It became part of two courses she created about advancing the academic success of Black children. 

"I said, I want my students to be able to not just read about Black children but to be able to work with them, to interact with them," Tafari said. 

The mentors were there to fulfill the social-emotional needs of students by talking to them about their goals, their struggles, and their feelings.

"And that's the idea here, to really help them just grow," Tafari said. "Just grow and be more amazing. Become their full amazing selves."

Students who take Tafari's classes meet twice a week — one day at the university, and the other at an elementary school. This year, that was at Cook, which is a Title 1 school, meaning a large part of the student population is economically disadvantaged.

"So this is us doing our part, as part of the community, to help families, to help the teachers, to help the children to have better lives," Tafari said. 

When the program ended in April, Cook students got to visit their mentors at their school for a change where they were greeted by WSSU's marching band. The mentors also performed chants and cheers for the children, before breaking out into different groups.

They filmed TikTok dances together. There was a photo booth with props. Some of the mentors even invited their university friends who are a part of Greek life and sports to talk to the children about their experiences.

They also heard from a few speakers, including WSSU Department of Education Chair Kimberly Pemberton. 

“I hope you have been able to share some things from your heart. Mentors, I hope you have been able to be a guide for them in those tough times as well as those celebratory times," Pemberton said. "And I want you to know that there is a mentor somewhere at all times, for each and every one of you.”

Cook’s Dean of Students, David Johnson, thanked the mentors for going above and beyond. Then he gave a message to the elementary schoolers. 

"This is college HBCU life. I want you to soak it up. I want you to drink it in," Johnson said. "We don't always get these opportunities. This is an amazing opportunity so just soak in it and enjoy it."

The celebration ended the same way the program started — with lunch. Tafari said that this time, it was courtesy of the mentors. 

"They are using their meal plans to swipe in their mentees today because they refused to let these children leave campus without experiencing lunch in the Kennedy Dining Hall," Tafari said. "So that’s what this is about."

The RAMS program will start back up again in August with a new group of university and elementary school students.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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