The children at Cook Literacy Model School in Winston-Salem met their new college student mentors for the first time one-on-one on Thursday. 

Principal Celena Tribby said they’d been anticipating the first lunch meeting all week. 

“The level of excitement before, like it was loud,” she said. “And now it's like there's this hum of learning and excitement. It went from, I think, nervous energy to ‘OK, they're really here.’”

The mentors are 32 students from Winston-Salem State University. For the next few months, they will be spending their Thursdays with kids in a program called RAMS, which stands for Radical Academic Mentoring Service.

It was developed by WSSU Professor Dawn Hicks Tafari in 2016. 

She created two courses called Advancing the Academic and Social Success of Black Males, and its counterpart for Black girls, which delve into the disparities Black students face as well as what strategies are working. 

Tafari said it’s great to have those discussions, but she wanted her students to have hands-on experience. 

“I'm a former elementary school teacher,” she 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.”

The program began with Ashley Academy for Cultural & Global Studies elementary school but was stopped due to COVID-19. Tafari worked with the school district to bring it back this year at Cook, which is a Title 1 school, meaning a large part of the student population is economically disadvantaged. 

On Tuesdays, the college students meet in Tafari’s class to discuss the research and prepare for the next visit with their mentees. On Thursdays, they drive or take a bus provided by Union Baptist Church to the elementary school during the children’s lunchtime. 

The mentors will talk to their small groups about life, their goals and how to achieve them. Tafari said she taught her students that no goal is unattainable. 

“If you say you want to be a rapper, or you say you want to be a professional basketball player, or you say you want to be a scientist, did you do your homework last night?” she said, explaining an example of how a mentor/mentee conversation might go. “How's your science homework doing? How was class yesterday? Did you ask any questions in class? You know, so those kinds of things to really help them take the big goals and make them tangible. Make them bite-sized.”

Tafari said this isn’t tutoring, but the social-emotional support these mentors will provide should have positive academic effects. 

“We just going to hang out with kids, and just hope that giving them the space and the opportunity to talk and to share, will just, you know, like I said, help them become their more fuller selves,” she said. “Help relieve some of the stress that our children are undergoing, and help them to be better in school.”

There are 79 elementary schoolers participating in the program.

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

300x250 Ad

300x250 Ad

Support quality journalism, like the story above, with your gift right now.