A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Helping Hands: Booker Washington elementary students benefitting from Dunbar High math mentors


By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

Take some 75 fifth-graders and add three dozen older helpers, and the sum is a thriving partnership between Booker T. Washington Intermediate Academy and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

“We decided to try peer mentoring, and the Dunbar kids really make a difference,” said BTW social worker Carla Bingham. “Our kids love them. The biggest thing is they have more motivation to do better.”

Bingham and Dunbar counterpart Steve Duerson launched this effort last fall with an assist from volunteer Greg Howard of the Fayette County Attorney’s Office, who offered to provide bus transportation. Twice a month, the Dunbar group spends an hour on Wednesdays at BTW, where the elementary students appreciate the special attention and extra help with math.

Twice a month, the Dunbar group spends an hour on Wednesdays at BTW, where the elementary students appreciate the special attention and extra help with math (Photo Provided)

Twice a month, the Dunbar group spends an hour on Wednesdays at BTW, where the elementary students appreciate the special attention and extra help with math (Photo Provided)

“They’ve taught me how to multiply, divide, and add decimals, and I think I’ve got the hang of it. They’ll also teach us new things we’re getting ready to learn in our next unit,” said 11-year-old Ciara Musick. “My love of math has increased a lot.”

The BTW staff has noticed positive effects, too, including higher test scores.

“I see growth in my students, and it’s helped them become better problem-solvers,” said teacher Sharon Kennedy. “These math tiles really make you think. This program has built their endurance as well as their confidence.”

Worksheets challenge the youngsters to complete math problems by lining up numbered yellow tiles, much like a BINGO card. Students also use markers and whiteboards as well as pencil and paper. The Dunbar mentors sit alongside the kids in ratios of 1:2 or 1:3, ready to offer suggestions and kudos as they tackle tough math concepts.

“Some of them are behind, but we are progressing. It’s fun showing them how, and we want them to be more successful,” said junior Candy Chavez, who recalled her own struggles in school.

Jordan Lewis, a senior, had another incentive to volunteer.

The fifth-graders can also connect with the high schoolers because they have things in common like music and fashion (Photo Provided)

The fifth-graders can also connect with the high schoolers because they have things in common like music and fashion (Photo Provided)

“I just wanted to give back to my school and come back and help the kids,” said Jordan, who attended BTW. “I try to encourage them to do their best at everything.”

The fifth-graders can also connect with the high schoolers because they have things in common like music and fashion. Since the students are paired with the same mentors each session, they’ve gotten to know one another throughout the school year.

“Sometimes they’ll tell jokes and be funny, but they’re serious about what they do,” Ciara said of the Dunbar crew.

Outside the classroom, though, the two groups also enjoy social outings. The mentors invited the fifth-graders to their gym for Senior Night for the Dunbar boys’ basketball team earlier this week.

The diverse mentoring group includes not only basketball players and baseball players, but also students from clubs like FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America), Leaders in the Making, LOL (Latino Outreach Leaders), and the school’s Math, Science and Technology Center. Another handful of students recently joined the mentors.

“The (Dunbar) kids are talking it up. They’re learning education is important, especially at a younger age,” Duerson said.

He’s confident the volunteers will leave a lasting impression, adding, “I am super proud of our mentors who faithfully offer their service and encouragement every other week. Their just showing up for the kids can help them be successful later on.”

Tammy L. Lane is editor of the Fayette County Public Schools website.


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