SRU students take center stage as ‘Rock Star’ mentors for area children

Women helping boy

Eleven Slippery Rock University students mentor elementary school children at the SRU/SGA Child Care Center every Tuesday as part of a service-learning group called Rock Star Neighbors.

Dec. 1, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Jenson, like many elementary school children, dreads doing his homework. That's beginning to change now that the fourth-grader spends time with a mentor at Slippery Rock University as part of a service-learning program called Rock Star Neighbors.

"He would always say he is allergic to homework," said Leah Golden, a senior early childhood-special education major from Pittsburgh who has mentored Jenson since the spring. "I try to motivate him and tell him if he does his homework, then we'll participate in something fun. It's really important for Rock Star Neighbors to be there for (the children) so they have someone they can go to and count on."

Rock Star Neighbors is a group of SRU students which partners with the SRU/Student Government Association Preschool and Child Care Center to provide individualized attention for children from Slippery Rock Area Elementary School who are enrolled in the center's after-school program. SRU students are paired with a child for the entire semester, with the pair participating in activities every Tuesday afternoon for two hours.

Steele

   STEELE

The program was started in the spring 2017 semester through the University's Office of Community-Engaged Learning and has continued this fall with 11 SRU students from a variety of majors who are vetted, trained and committed to mentoring the children for the entire semester. Each volunteer also has the opportunity to lead a group lesson that is typically focused on improving a social skill that the children need help with based on questionnaires completed by their parents.

"It's nice because each mentor gets a teaching experience and the mentees all get a chance to experience someone else being the leader," said Katie Steele, a senior double major in music education and French from Cranberry Township who is the Rock Star Neighbor's service leadership coordinator. "It's not just hearing from the same person every week."

There are three "centers" that Rock Star Neighbors use to structure their time with the children: social skills, academic skills and community engagement. Examples of the centers may include an activity about overcoming shyness for social skills or writing cards to hospital patients for community engagement.

Golden

   GOLDEN

"It's really hands-on and it gives them fun time after school because they were sitting for so long," said Maria Wittman, a graduate student in elementary education from Pittsburgh who directs the school-age program at the Child Care Center throughout the week. "But the biggest thing is to have someone to look up to as a role model. When Rock Star Neighbors are here they get some one-on-one interaction with their mentor. It's something the children in the program really benefit from."

Before any of the children can participate in the group lessons, they have to complete their homework. That's when mentors become accountability partners for children like Jenson, who has shown a dramatic improvement in his willingness to complete his homework since Golden started mentoring him.

"They don't get that one-on-one attention in school and not all the kids go home to the same environment," Golden said.

There are mutual benefits for the SRU students as well, many of who are studying to enter professions where they will work with children. After four training sessions early in the semester, Rock Star Neighbors interact with children for 10 weeks, all while writing reflections about their experiences.

"I love working with kids," Golden said. "It's cool as an education major to have that impact on a child because when I go to field (experience) I work with all the kids but I don't have that one-on-one experience like I do with Rock Star Neighbors."

"You get to connect with other students across campus and it's really rewarding in a lot of ways because you can see a child's face light up when you walk in the door," Steele added. "They know you're coming. It's a big day for them."

SRU students interested in applying to be a Rock Star Neighbor for the spring 2018 semester should contact the OCEL at: 724.738.4937 or ocel@sru.edu.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | justin.zackal@sru.edu