The class of 2020 is the first group of students to be partnered with mentors from community businesses through the Adopt A Class program from Kindergarten through 12th grade.
The Adopt A Class program was started in the fall of 2007 through a partnership between the Chamber of Commerce and USD 490. Local businesses encouraged workers to sign up for the program. Volunteers were then paired with Kindergarten classrooms to visit the school and help mentor students once per week.
These volunteers listened to the students’ stories, assisted them with school work, and played educational games during their visits. As the students promoted from one grade level to the next, the mentors moved up with them and new volunteers were assigned to incoming Kindergarten classes.
“The program lets the students know that they have a number of people, not just their teachers or their parents, that genuinely care about their success,” Adopt A Class Mentor Bill Rinkenbaugh said.
As the students and mentors reached middle school, the program had to adapt. Students were no longer in self-contained classrooms and all of the students who were previously separated into different elementary schools were mixed into one building in the sixth grade.
“We sort of lost that close connection we had with our original kids, but developed relationships with some others,” Adopt A Class Mentor Rod Nelson recalled. “The logistics of helping with the kids was more difficult.”
Despite the challenges, volunteers and teachers worked together to find a system that allowed the program to continue. When they reached high school, Seminar provided the necessary time needed to connect with students. The mentors focused on teaching soft skills such as a proper handshake and provided a listening ear. They continued to show up and show that they cared for the students and their well-being.
The program is not only beneficial for students, but is rewarding for the volunteers as well.
“The most rewarding thing occurs now when I run into the kids outside of the school setting and they say ‘hi’ or give me a hug,” Nelson said. “They have no idea what that means to me; that I had at least a small impact on their lives.”
Although the school year is not ending quite how anyone expected it to, the mentors and high school staff are still looking for ways to support students. The Adopt A Class mentors encourage students to decide what they want out of life and to be the best they can be.
“They have a strong base to continue to pursue their goals,” Rinkenbaugh said. “Now is the time to do that. I know their world was turned upside down with COVID-19, but they will come through this and will become stronger because of it.”
Programs like Adopt A Class, I Can Read, and Foster Grandparents would not be possible without community volunteers. There are times when those role models can make all the difference in the life of a student, and can also be the highlight of a mentor’s week.
“I found it to be something I looked forward to on a daily basis,” Rinkenbaugh said.
If you are interested in learning more or volunteering, please contact Staci Rickard at firstname.lastname@example.org.