“Is my partner here?”
As the WITS staff and I enter Cook Elementary, I am greeted by a handful of students from my Workplace Mentoring Program (WPM). Before heading to class, they skip over for a hug and to ask, “Is my partner here?” One by one they ask about their mentor from GCM Grosvenor, WITS’ corporate host for the WPM with Cook Elementary. I shouldn’t be surprised they are so eager to see their partners. Over the course of the school year, the 33 Cook students who spent their Tuesday afternoons at GCM Grosvenor not only received homework and reading help from their mentors – but also created – together – a place for mutual success and happiness.
The word partnership resonates in my ears throughout our morning at Cook Books, when GCM Grosvenor gives every single student at Cook Elementary five brand-new books to take home for the summer. This is the third year of Cook Books, and by now the event is greatly-anticipated, as evidenced by the flash of recognition and joy in the students’ faces as they see us unload boxes of WITS’ famous orange tote bags. Kids tell us they remember us from last year, and that they have a sibling or friend who went to WPM. “And I’m going to do it next year because I’ll be in the fourth grade!” One girl tells me.
That almost every student we see already knows what WITS is strikes me as a testament to the true strength of our partnership with GCM Grosvenor, which has been partnering with WITS since 2010. Whether through WPM or Cook Books, the students at Cook have a connection to WITS – and by extension, they are impassioned by reading, learning, and making friendships. For the GCM Grosvenor volunteers who are present, they are privileged to be reunited with their students both from this year, as well as years past. Volunteers reach out to students, now in 7th and 8th grade, remarking on how tall they have grown, and without fail, the student smiles. “I remember you,” one 8th grade boy says as he enters the auditorium, “we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together.”
Students like 5th-grader JeCorey C., who participated in WPM two years in a row, benefitted from a continued partnership with the same mentors. Together, they developed a positive, trusting, and fun rapport that nurtured JeCorey’s love for graphic novels and helped him stay on track with school work. Sydney B. was encouraged by her older sister Rachel to participate in WITS, and then also convinced her younger brother Nathyn to sign up as well. “We all love to read,” Sydney explained back in the fall, “so we all came to WITS!”
While in line to enter the auditorium, Navelle A. asks me if during the assembly everyone who participated at WITS could stand up – “so everyone can recognize what we did this year.” I embrace the moment, witnessing his pride and sense of accomplishment, as well as a desire to share it with his peers. After we have the WITS students stand and the auditorium opens their applause, their principal asks for a raise of hands of students who want to be in WITS next year. Just about every student’s hand shoots into the air, including many kids who wanted to return.
Community is shaped by consistent, caring partnerships, and it is an honor to see it take hold in the relationship between a student and a mentor, as well as an organization and a school. In partnership with GCM Grosvenor, WITS will continue to deepen our impact at Cook Elementary, inspiring students to love reading, to take pride in their school, and to realize all of the tremendous things they are capable of achieving together.
By: Elizabeth Kristoff, Program Manager