The educational goals we’ve set for our city include . . . a robust mentoring program called InspireU that pairs San Antonio’s business community with at-risk middle school students . . . .
That’s what Mayor Julián Castro wrote in an op-ed, “S.A. education initiatives can spread”, Juilán Castro, San Antonio Express-News, March 5, 2014, published at the time of the San Antonio visit of the Mayors for Educational Excellence Tour, as discussed in this earlier post. Now that I have taken a closer look at InspireU, in particular the match between KIPP San Antonio and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), I agree with Castro that the program is “robust” and deserving of community support. (At the bottom of this post, look for a list of ways to help.)
Earlier this year, I wrote a sponsored post about the InspireU workplace mentoring program from Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas (BBBSST), but I wanted to see the program in action. The core focus of my blog is charter schools, so BBBSST invited me to attend the February meeting of Bigs from UTHSCSA with Littles from KIPP Camino Academy, a middle school serving grades 5-8. These pairs have been meeting monthly over the lunch hour since January 2013.
Just before noon, my kids and I drove onto the UTHSCSA campus. We saw a KIPP school bus pull into the parking lot, too, and parked nearby. We checked in with Sarah Siebert, BBBSST’s coordinator for the KIPP-UTHSCSA group, and followed the students into the Texas Star Café dining room, shepherded by Teri Garcia, counselor at KIPP Camino. The room was festively decorated for Valentine’s Day, and there was a table loaded with sack lunches.
The UTHSCSA staff members paired up with their Littles and sat down in pairs at the tables. A soft buzz of conversation rose in the room as the Bigs and Littles caught up on events. Sarah broke into the conversation briefly to give some welcoming remarks and to ask the Bigs to fill out their evaluation forms. (Data is important.) Meanwhile, my kids ate food from our lunchbox. I observed the conversations, but didn’t want to interrupt. A few pairs, needing extra privacy, went outside to sit at the picnic tables in the courtyard.
These Bigs and Littles have been matched for more than a year; by now, most of the students have advanced to 6th grade. At the beginning of the lunch hour, there was a sense of urgency—leaning in together, sharing a month’s worth of stories all at once. After a while, the talking slowed down, and there was a more relaxed give-and-take between the Bigs and Littles. Some of the boys got restless and started digging into the unclaimed sack lunches for extra cookies. My kids got restless, too, and we went outside to run around the courtyard with some of the boys. They seemed pleased that I had recently toured their campus during a KIPP First Friday Breakfast, as mentioned in this earlier post. (There is another breakfast this Friday, April 4; learn more in this post.)
When the lunch hour was nearly over, I spoke with Eve Lutich and her Big, Kristen Zapata, a staff member with the Hispanic Dental Center of Excellence, to ask about their visit. Kristen said that they spent the hour “catching up on the last month” and talking about “family news, events, things like that.”
It’s just an hour a month, but a strong bond develops between Bigs and Littles because of the stability over time. There is value in having the opportunity to talk about the stress of growing up to an adult who is not a family member or teacher. Also, these Bigs have good careers, so they can help reinforce the Littles’ high expectations for the future—including a college education.
I understand why Castro includes InspireU in his list of programs that are helping to improve K-12 education in San Antonio. InspireU complements what KIPP Camino is doing in the classroom. The challenge is for BBBSST to grow the program; they need more volunteers and more money.
Are you ready to sign up your workplace for the InspireU program? This flyer has more details about the process of getting started; get more information by visiting BigMentor.org, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 210-225-6322. Or, make an online donation to BBBSST.
A great way to learn more about KIPP San Antonio is to visit a First Friday Breakfast. The next one will be on Friday, April 4, 2014, starting at 7:45 a.m., at KIPP Un Mundo Academy, as described in this earlier post.; see this post for the complete 2013-14 schedule. You can also make an online donation to KIPP San Antonio.
Also, did you know that Denise Barkhurst, President and CEO of BBBSST, is the SA2020 Resolutions Book Drive Leader? Denise, her daughters, and her Littles have resolved to collect at least 2,020 books for grades K-3 in 2014, and they are well on their way. “A Big and Little book drive”, Denise Barkhurst, A Joyful Rant, February 3, 2014. Sign up to help Denise and her team. You, too, can make a difference and help fulfill the goal of improving education in San Antonio.