City Connects Coordinators don’t just match students up with community partners – our coordinators also invest in making these relationships flourish.
That’s the work that City Connects Coordinator Madeline Gillespie does at Mendell Elementary School in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. Gillespie has worked with the nonprofit mentoring organization Strong Women Strong Girls (SWSG) to ensure that the program has a positive impact on students.
“We have a robust program with about 25 girls in grades three, four and five who meet with six mentors who are students from Simmons College,” Gillespie says.
Through the SWSG curriculum, the girls and their mentors learn and talk about strong women and girls. At the Mendell school, this conversation has included both famous girls such as Marsai Martin, the 15-year-old, African American actor who appears on the television show black-ish – as well as less-well-known women such as Jasmine Cho, an Asian-American baker who is committed to social justice.
To make sure the mentoring program works well, Gillespie takes a hands-on approach.
“It’s a great program, and I support them as much as possible,” Gillespie says. “I help recruit girls and manage logistics.”
Gillespie checks in with the mentors to see how things are going, and she checks-in with the girls as well. The result is an open channel of communication that makes it easy to share highlights or challenges. Her work is a great example of how City Connects coordinators across the country work to enhance the power and reach of community partners.
“I try to empower the mentors and communicate with them so that they feel like they’re part of our school community, and so that they feel they can come to me with any concerns.”
One result of Gillespie’s actions: the SWSG mentors are proactive.
“If they notice a dynamic between girls or an issue that a student is having, the mentors let me know,” Gillespie says. “And they’ll do things like go on a walk with a student to take a break, or they’ll ask a student to help by taking on more of a leadership role. The mentors are just super-invested.”
Last year, when some behavioral issues arose among the girls, Gillespie helped draft a behavior contract that set clear expectations. She also worked to move the program from late in the afternoons, when the Mendell students were tired after a long day, to early in the morning when everyone was fresh.
Last year, Strong Women Strong Girls gave Gillespie its Above and Beyond Site Partner award for her efforts.
But best of all the program works for students, as Gillespie explains:
“The girls are really engaged in the curriculum, and they’re connected to the mentors. They trust the mentors and they can talk to them.”