News & Stories

So What’s The Big Deal?


Joanne outside Norwood’s front entrance.

Potential volunteers might ask themselves what’s REALLY the value of spending just an hour with a child at their school. So we sat down with Joanne Wynn, Principal at Norwood School, to find out.

Why is the Bigs in Schools program important for Norwood School?
We’ve had this program for over 25 years. One reason the program is so important is because many of our students come from humble situations and they don’t always have access to other role models in their lives. Kids need role models to dream and to see what’s happening in the world. It’s a priceless gift to spend time with a child. Mentors are special to kids; they listen to their stories and they are a friend. When the kids know their mentors will come every week, it creates a sense of stability. Mentors help our kids learn to believe in themselves and dream outside of what they already know.

Dani and Becky - ism

Dani and Becky are one of the matches at Norwood.

How does mentoring impact students?
I’ve never seen anything more transformative in the lives of students. Their attitude shifts and resiliency grows when they have an additional caring adult mentor in their lives. When students know that their mentor is going to come, they are always here on that day. Kids who struggle with attendance, never miss mentor day. They are always looking forward to it and afterwards they share stories about what they did together. It’s so much more than just a day; the kids look forward to it all the time. They develop a shine, a confidence, and grow knowing that they mean something to someone other than their parents. When kids are in that space then they are really ready to learn. They have hope. If there is negativity in a child’s – if they have difficulties at home or are struggling in school – they might not have a lot of hope. But just adding the small piece of a mentor coming in every week brings that hope. It helps them dig into learning.

How does mentoring impact the school as a whole?
Not to harp on hope, but it gives the whole school hope. Being a teacher especially in an inner city school is not easy work. When teachers see students happier, more willing to take risks, more willing to engage, more open to sharing, it makes them hopeful. Mentoring also provides a dynamic sense of community. Our school is the community hub; people come from all over to share their knowledge and skills with kids. When you have mentors coming in, they might say: “oh hey, I’m an artist, I could help out with that.” Then what you have is a really huge network of people who are part of your greater school community. This is our home and the volunteers also become alumni of Norwood. And all of that makes us better.

How does mentoring impact the greater community?
Right now, it’s hard to comment on the bigger impacts because we’ve had the benefits of mentoring programs for so long. But if you think of a stereotypical inner city school, you have people who don’t want to send their kids there, you have crime in the community and a lack of trust. But when a school can be supported by the community and there are people getting involved then the entire feel of the community changes – suddenly there’s a sense of vibrancy and hope. That is powerful – it can change a community’s profile, and we’ve seen that for sure at Norwood.  Now imagine that you have that, not just in vulnerable schools, but all across the city. Then you see mentors helping students reach new leadership capabilities and they see themselves doing things they didn’t they they’d be able to do. That’s what this program does for the community – it engages them and it’s so impactful when people in other walks of life are involved in the education of kids, in helping to create engaged and dynamic citizens.

How many of your kids would have mentors if we had an unlimited supply of volunteers?
Everyone! It changes lives. It opens new directions and different perspectives that we can’t necessarily provide as teachers. We can give them really exciting opportunities throughout the year, but one individual sharing their own dreams and life experiences and aspirations opens up so much more for a child. Even if they’re not from a humble situation, even if they have a “regular” situation. Imagine what it would do for them to have an adult that’s there just for them. It’s inspiring.

What would you say to anyone who’s thinking about volunteering?
Well, I think there are typically two reasons why people don’t want to volunteer. First, they feel like feel they don’t have the time. Second, is people wonder what they could possibly have to give to a child. What I’d say is that you won’t even notice the time. It’s so fulfilling, and the stories you’ll have to tell you friends and family will be something you’ll hold in your heart the whole week long. It doesn’t take a glamorous hobby, job, skill, or personality. If you’re just there to be present, to talk and share life’s journey, that in itself makes a huge difference. That first meeting might be awkward because it is the first time trying something new, but after that it will just flow like you’ve known each other forever. You won’t question what you have to give, you’ll just know.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the Bigs In Schools Program?
It truly is one of the most beautiful supports for kids that we can give them outside of a high quality education. Mentors help the students become great citizens, they help a child find out what their gift is to give to this world. With a caring adult by their side, kids can figure out who they are and who they want to become, and how they want to give back.

Click here to learn how you can be a part of the Bigs in Schools program just in time for the Winter Semester!