Rebuilt College Mentors for Kids chapter at AU wins multiple awards

May 10—ANDERSON — A partnership between Anderson University and a local elementary school is helping young students imagine their futures while simultaneously preparing college students for their own careers.

Once a week throughout the school year, first- through fifth-grade students at Anderson Elementary School have bused across town to the AU campus. There, the students are greeted by their older counterparts who guide them through activities focused on science, art and other academic areas.

The AU students are members of the school's College Mentors for Kids chapter. The Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization partners with local school districts in three states to pair elementary-aged children with college students for one-on-one mentoring during the academic year.

The arrangement carries with it mutual benefits: The younger students are encouraged to think about and share their ambitions; and their mentors are able to hone relational skills that will become necessary as they begin their teaching careers.

Activities, usually scheduled weekly, take place on campus to provide a real-world setting for the younger students to get a taste of college life.

"We're empowering them to see what they can do in their future," said Trey Whitted, an AU junior from Alexandria who serves as chapter president. "It's a lot of hard work, but it's worth it."

The AU chapter was recently honored with the College Mentors for Kids Chapter of the Year Award for small schools. The award recognizes student groups excelling in the program's objectives of providing quality activities and maintaining strong connections with families.

"This award does really mean a lot because this chapter has had a lot of work to do," said Carrie Clay, an associate professor of Spanish who serves as AU's faculty advisor for the chapter. "It's very validating for them to be recognized in this way as they continue to push ahead and help these students realize what's out there for them."

For Whitted, who was named Chapter Leader of the Year, the honors were especially gratifying because, he said, the AU chapter had to be essentially rebuilt after the pandemic reduced its membership to a handful of students.

"It was just a great feeling, especially building it up after COVID," he said. "I started doing mentoring about two years ago, when we were still doing most of the activities on Zoom. It's incredible, because I've always wanted to get to this point where we could build back up and serve a large amount of kids."

In the 2023-24 academic year, a total of 20 AU students acted as mentors to 16 Anderson Elementary students in grades one through six. The partnership, school administrators said, has been active for at least five years and will continue next year.

"It gets the kids excited for those future opportunities," said Haley Lipps, a social worker at Anderson Elementary School. "Whether they choose to go to college or not, it's great to bring them in with those older mentors who are in that college space."

Lipps said several children have already signed up for the program next year.

Leaders of the group are eager to continue recruiting more of their peers to augment the program's offerings next year.

"This growth demonstrates the power of mentoring," Whitted said. "I believe that providing children a space where they can explore opportunities for their future is one of the most meaningful ways to help guide the next generation, and I'm grateful to have this outlet to benefit the kids in our community."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.