Students Mentor At-risk Youth
Helping at-risk youth improve their reading skills is the aim of three Vanderbilt students who have helped mobilize a rotating group of 60 fellow student volunteers to meet with North Nashville youth every Tuesday and Thursday evening.
Samantha Pomplon, Megan Goetsch and Samara Orkin, all seniors at Peabody, are co-coordinators of The After School Program, known as TAP. The Rev. Frank Gordon and his wife, Tam Gordon, of the Fourteenth Avenue Baptist Church originally conceived of the program to help the community’s young children. Mrs. Gordon partnered with Donna Ford, professor of special education, to make their dream a reality. Pomplon, Goetsch and Orkin are three of Ford’s students.
The mentors encourage the children to push themselves further than they think they can go. For the older students, the goal is often to work towards chapter books and provoke higher-level thinking.
Pomplon, Goetsch and Orkin manage the program, spending the bulk of their time recruiting and training Vanderbilt volunteers and tutoring and mentoring the TAP participants. Their goal is to have enough volunteers so that each child is paired with a single mentor to better form close relationships and establish constancy. Children in the program know who their tutors are and when they come—much like a Big Brother/Big Sister relationship.
“The original goal of the program was to focus mainly on the students’ reading ability, however, the mentoring experience has become just as important,” Orkin explained. “Even the youngest students know which day a certain mentor comes and will look forward to that day all week.”
The program works for tutors and students alike. Experiencing a day as a tutor is a rewarding experience, and all of the tutors are happy to stay and spend time with their younger friends when reading time is over.
“It’s impossible for them not to gain from this wonderful experience,” Ford said. “I am incredibly proud of Samara, Megan and Samantha. These students are representing Vanderbilt so well. They are taking what they have learned in classes and making a difference. What more can we ask of our students?”