At first glance, it looked like some kind of ‘sit in’ down the kindergarten hallway at Walker Early
Learning Center, which serves the youngest learners on campus. However, those involved were certainly
Instead, about 30 kindergartners who had just finished eating breakfast in the school cafeteria
were snuggled up to each of their very own teenage mentors. The middle schoolers had started their
school day at 7:30 a.m. to spend time with their little buddies. They pair up on the floor in a long hallway
before the hustle and bustle of the school day officially begins at 8:15 a.m.
It is hard to tell who is getting the most out of the recently launched tutoring match up – the
five-year-olds or the 13-year-olds…But, in any event, it is a win-win situation. The youngest learners
adore their older Wayne County School peers and are disappointed when they have to leave at 8:03
a.m. on Mondays through Thursdays each week. Likewise, the older students have become somewhat
attached to their younger Cardinal classmates.
“The BIG kids are cool,” remarked a kindergarten student at Walker Early Learning Center, which
is located on the Wayne County Schools campus. “You’re good big kids. Thank you for helping me with
my ABCs,” said another appreciative five-year-old.
“Can we go with the BIG kids?” asked another kindergartner as the mentors turned in the
rhyming words and riddle sheets they were working on that morning to the teacher supervising the
peaceful ‘sit in’ of sorts.
The middle schoolers had to tell their little friends goodbye so they could quickly board the
school bus to shuttle back over to the middle school, located next door. They had ridden the same bus
over from the middle school about a half an hour earlier, after getting to their school from their regular
early morning bus route.
“Now that they know us, they are so sweet. They used to be shy, but now they talk to us about
stuff and when we line up to leave they wave to us,” remarked mentor Emmie Dishman.
An appreciative group of kindergarten teachers noted how dedicated and motivated these
teenagers are each morning mentoring to their students. “These middle school students are kind and
understanding,” said Kindergarten Teacher Becky Lewis.
“We are trying to take advantage of the time we have to enhance our students’ literacy skills,”
explained veteran Teacher Stacey Corder, who is serving as the Read to Achieve instructor this school
year. “We started this program in November to help improve our students’ alphabet skills and it has
really taken off. The mentors work with our kindergarteners on rhyming words, which is an area they
are lacking in right now. Riddles are very difficult for them at this stage. In a couple of weeks, our
kindergarteners will have the privilege of reading to our middle school mentors.”
“Our kindergartners really love the mentors and look up to them. After all, they are the BIG
kids,” grinned Corder. “This perk is designed for all of our kindergartners because everyone needs a little
extra help every now and then.”
She said they line up the kindergartners randomly each morning and pair them up. Each
morning results in a new partnership so the kindergartners have many heroes to help them.
While the teachers can already see the difference this project is making in their classrooms, the
next DIBELS test will document the results for the staff to review. “We hope to see huge results from
this,” said Corder.
“Already though, we have seen a tremendous amount of gains with students recognizing sounds
and letters. This is proving to be a great confidence builder for both sets of students,” Corder noted.
She and a fellow teacher Alicia Parker got the idea for the mentorships at the Kentucky Reading
Conference this past November. Speaker Jan Richardson had used this as a successful reading
intervention for children for many years.
“Within two weeks we started this project,” said Corder. “We got our middle school principal on
board and she has been very supportive.”
“Wayne County Middle School has been happy to provide kindergarten mentors for Walker
Early Learning Center,” said Wayne County Middle School Principal Melissa Gossage.
She explained that she was approached by Walker Early Learning Center Principal Angela
Ballinger and Stacey Corder about the possibility of having 50 strong middle school readers to volunteer
their time before school to help kindergarten students with their alphabet and improve their rhyming
and reading skills.
“I was initially very skeptical that many students would be interested in giving up their social
time of a morning or being responsible for consistently being at Walker each morning and ready to
help. I was pleasantly surprised at the interest and excitement that our students showed in
participating,” said Gossage.
Seventh and eighth grade students were selected by their Language Arts teachers and it
was offered to all students who were currently reading on grade level or excelling above.
“While we started with over 50 volunteers, there have been approximately 34 who have
maintained consistency over the past several months. I have been so encouraged to see our
middle school students take so much pride in the accomplishments of their kindergarten
friends. These students will be able to count this time toward service learning hours on their
Individual Learning Plans and will also be recognized for their efforts with a special award on
“For these students, it is not about what they are getting for participating, it is about
the difference they know they are making in the lives of these younger kids. I am hopeful that
Walker Early Learning Center and Wayne County Middle School will continue to collaborate and
ensure that this mentorship continues and becomes a regular tradition that kids look forward
to being a part of,” concluded Gossage.
Chances are it will because many of the middle school mentors are extremely grateful
for this opportunity.
“I want to thank everyone for this opportunity…for the opportunity to get attached, to
have a fun time, and to just help these little ones in the mornings,” said mentor Cammie
“As I kept going to Walker, I got this feeling of attachment and it was like no one is
stopping me from seeing these kids,” laughed Cammie. “These kids are my everything now. I
put all my focus in them when I’m there.”
“Every day I wake up thinking I’m going to see my favorite little people and I just can’t
wait. I get up every morning and strive to be the best person I possibly can be because of these
kids,” said Cammie.
Mentor Whitley Sullivan said, “I love the expression they make when they understand
something for the first time and, why you congratulate them. Their progress from when we first
began to now is extraordinary…This experience has also helped me to decide some jobs that
might be best for me in the future.”
Wayne County Middle School Mentors Allie Burke, Brayleigh Butcher, Damon Hancock, and Faith Flynn hand in their children's work to the Reading to Achieve Teacher, Stacey Corder
Wayne County students sitting in the kindergarden hallway working on literacy skills
(left to right:) Walker Early Learning Center student Areeonna Adams and Wayne County Middle School Mentor McKenzie Tucker
(Front left to right:) Angel Benitez and Wyatt Smith and (in background) Jaxon McGuire and Emmie Dishman
(left to right:) Jorden Watson and Katlyn Stinson, Jacinda Dykes and Jase Sexton
(left to right:) Jabel Smith working with Angel Kilburn