Can you think of a place where you’d find a group of elementary students excited to work on their homework after school? We know of one – McKee School. Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters (BGCBigs) collaborated with McKee School to launch the Excite, Challenge, and Empower Learners (EXCEL) Program. EXCEL is a supervised after school homework program that supports kids from Kindergarten to Grade Six who struggle with their schoolwork. Though it’s only just finished its first year, the kids already love the program.
“I like the program because the volunteers are helpful,” says Abel, one of the students. Shera, another student, enjoys playing games that help her learn.
“I am amazed by how dedicated students are to succeed academically,” says Mohit, Founder and Director of the EXCEL Program and BGCBigs volunteer. “All of the students enrolled in the program have improved tremendously since the beginning of the year. Kids who came in disliking subjects such as Math and English have told us how much more they enjoy those subjects now that they understand the fundamental concepts.”
Mohit has been a volunteer with BGCBigs since 2011 when he was first matched as an In-School Mentor at McKee. He went into the school every week to spend an hour helping Rafael, his mentee, with his homework. But Mohit felt like an hour wasn’t long enough.
“Rafael was my inspiration to create EXCEL,” Mohit explains. “I realized that if Rafael could benefit from more time spent working on homework, then there were probably a lot of other kids who could benefit as well.”
So, Mohit connected with Brittney, his BGCBigs Community Program Facilitator, to find out if he could turn his dream of an after school homework program into a reality. After a summer of hard work and support from BGCBigs and McKee, Mohit brought the program to life in September 2013.
Each Wednesday from 3:30pm to 5:00pm, 18 students and 12 Volunteer EXCEL Program Mentors set up in one of the classrooms. The kids would sit with others in their grade and each table had one or two volunteers.
According to Brittney who frequently attends EXCEL to support Mohit, “the kids were all very loud and rowdy in the beginning, but after a few months they really started to settle in and focus on their learning.”
Mentors help students complete their homework assignments, prepare for exams, improve their learning skills and academic performance, and increase their self-confidence. Like in our Clubs, mentors aren’t matched with a specific child – they help out wherever they’re needed.
“I absolutely love seeing the kids improve from the extra after school tutoring we provide,” says Mikayla, one of the volunteers. “I can really tell the difference when they finally understand the subject they are learning in class. My favourite thing about EXCEL is that we approach the children as friends with authority, not just tutors or leaders; they feel comfortable around us and because of that most of them have great attitudes when it comes to learning during the program.”
“The volunteers worked with students who wouldn’t have received the same support at home,” says Carrie, a Grade One and Two Behavior and Learning Assistance Teacher. “It was an excellent opportunity for students to receive specialized help in a supportive “Club” environment. I am very grateful for the help one of my students received and believe the experience was of great value.”
Moving forward, Mohit’s vision as an aspiring physician is to utilize the EXCEL Program as a platform for preventative health education. He is collaborating with Alberta Health Services to educate students on various health topics in order to promote informed decision-making, healthy living, and balanced lifestyles. He is also working towards implementing EXCEL in one other school for the 2014/15 school year. “Our goal is to have 20 volunteers at each location. The more volunteers we have, the more kids we can help.”
As of now, the second school for EXCEL hasn’t been chosen. According to Mohit, the location will depend on the availability of new volunteer mentors.
“We were happy to support Mohit’s vision for this program because of his enthusiasm and commitment,” Brittney explains. “And we weren’t disappointed. Mohit is a great leader. He is very connected to his group of volunteers and isn’t afraid to go after what he needs to make the program successful. We are excited to see how we can continue EXCEL’s success in the coming years.”
When asked why he wants to continue managing EXCEL while also volunteering as an In-School Mentor, Mohit replies: “It’s just incredibly rewarding when you get to help a student arrive at that ‘aha!’ moment—the moment they finally understand a concept they have been struggling with, the moment their eyes light up with excitement. They feel empowered by their success and are motivated to continue challenging themselves. It’s really that ‘aha’ moment that captures the essence of what it means to ‘excel’ in our program. And it’s what motivates me and the rest of our amazing volunteers to continue to be the best possible role models and mentors for these students.”