It was the early afternoon of a beautiful day on Little Diamond Island in Casco Bay. The Reiche Community School second grade was sitting in circles grouped by homeroom on the grass overlooking the ferry dock wrapping up the day’s marine biology field trip. Accompanied by their Waynflete buddies, they had hiked across town to the Casco Bay Line terminal, boarded a ferry, and set sail, many traveling by boat for the first time. For the rest of the morning, this band of eager scientists explored the shoreline, collecting specimen for study: periwinkles, mussels, different kinds of seaweed, clams buried deep in the mudflat, sea worms, crabs, sea glass, and pretty much everything else that caught their probing eyes.
I listened as a teacher asked each student in her class to say what he or she liked best about the day. There were many candidates – the walk to the ferry, the boat ride, the cool stuff in the tidepool, being on an island, when somebody slipped on the seaweed – but when one student said that his favorite part was being with his new Waynflete buddy – in this case members of my homeroom – the others quickly chimed in their agreement. When my advisees read the endearing thank you notes from the Reiche students that arrived promptly a few days after our trip – all hand written and many illustrated – I can attest to the fact that the feeling was mutual.
This field trip, which was my advising group’s activity on community service day this spring, was the latest iteration of a deep and enduring relationship between West End neighbors. That relationship began at least 20 years ago with ad hoc experiences such as my group’s this year. Since then, relations between the schools have deepened and diversified, with an emphasis now on building ongoing relationships between Waynflete and Reiche students.
That shift began in the late 1990s when a group of students and their faculty advisor, Jackie Turner, started Project Respect, a mentoring partnership between the two schools and the West End Community Policing Center. The mentoring project jumped in size a few years later with the addition of two more programs – Parkside Fun and Buddy Lunch. The relationship deepened and diversified again in 2006 when a Waynflete sophomore answered a plea by the Reiche literacy teacher to drum up volunteer readers to staff a fledgling literacy program – Project Story Boost. That initiative expanded dramatically in 2008 when scores of Upper School students and even some parents answered the call by the Reiche principal for more volunteers and has been going strong ever since.
All told, approximately 80 Waynflete Upper School students head down Spring Street at least once a week throughout the school year – rain or shine – to meet an equal number of their Reiche buddies. Some of those Waynflete students first participated in one of these programs as a Reiche student. In addition, Waynflete submits grant applications each year to banks and foundations to support not only these programs but also summer recreational programs for neighborhood youth run by the West End and Parkside Community Policing Centers. This year, in the spirit of neighborhood partnership, the proceeds from the Spring Sprint were also directed to mentor program support.
Breda White, the faculty coordinator for Project Story Boost, believes that “PSB is a model service project – it is highly personal, immediate, requires total commitment to an individual, and fosters levels of communication and connection far beyond the requisite boosting of literacy skills. I believe that our students love doing PSB precisely because they can see that their efforts matter, and matter a great deal!” She reports that Reiche teachers are “consistently impressed by the commitment and follow-through of Waynflete students, particularly during the winter months, when no Waynflete student missed a session (without contacting them), in spite of having to schlep through snow, ice, and piercing winds.” Alexa Carrington, Waynflete junior and veteran PSB reader, gives some sense of what is behind such commitment. “I’ve been doing PSB for three years now, and every single year I’ve noted a significant leap in my buddy’s reading comprehension or interest in reading, and that’s kind of amazing to witness. In my experience, I feel that my buddy always views me as a kind of laidback teacher in the first semester, but by the second semester, I’m the “cool older kid” that they’ll tell anything and everything to.”
Amy Wu, Reiche Kindergarten teacher, echoes the sentiments of Breda and Alexa. “PSB is so important to the Kindergarten students at Reiche because it provides them weekly one-on-one individual reading time that the classroom teacher can’t provide and that many of our students don’t receive at home. The friendships that inevitably occur between the Waynflete and Reiche students is seen each time the older students arrive and the 5/6 year old faces light up as they run to greet “their reader.” The Kindergartners are engaged as their stories are read. Their interest in books is heightened during this year long relationship. PSB has a direct impact on a child’s interest in books, on the value a child places on books and reading, and on a student’s belief that he/she will also be a reader, too. It’s great to see that by the end of the Kindergarten year, many students are able to read to the Waynflete buddies when they come. Reading to a PSB audience/reader fills the student with great pride and sense of accomplishment.”
When launching Project Respect in the late 90s, Jackie Turner articulated a core principal on which she felt we could build an enduring institutional relationship. She believed that the experience would be most powerful if we recognized that being invited into Reiche is a privilege such that we should see ourselves as beneficiaries of the relationship as well as benefactors. That sentiment is repeated regularly by David Vaughan, who took over for Jackie and remains as the leader of the mentor project. The message has been internalized by our students, which I believe is a primary reason why the relationship between the schools has not only endured but has also flourished. Jackie has proved prescient, as is evidenced by the tireless devotion of the Waynflete mentors to their buddies and the countless ways this experience is featured in their college essays. In reflecting on this school year, Amy Wu observed, “The Waynflete students were exceptional in their commitment to Reiche students. They came regardless of weather, which proved harsh throughout the winter. I commend them on keeping their commitments to the children in my class.”
According to David Vaughan, “the mentoring programs have measurable impacts on the Reiche participants, as each year students in the programs show improvements in their attendance, behavior during school, and academic performance. But perhaps even more powerful is the impact that having a mentee has on the mentors. As they come to know what it means to have someone younger rely on them, and what it means to truly be a role model, the mentors learn lessons about responsibility that last a lifetime.”