Mentorship program looks for students

Calling all kid lovers: bring your energy and enthusiasm to the Leaders in Learning mentorship program this spring.

Leaders in Learning is a program that connects Carnegie Mellon student mentors with schoolchildren in the third through fifth grades in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. The program consists of a variety of workshops aimed at fostering creativity in elementary school kids. The workshops are focused on reading and writing but touch on areas ranging from theater to hip-hop to robotics.

"We're looking to overwhelm these kids with all sorts of wonderful things," said coordinator Ann Wootton. "It's really a reading, writing, and speaking workshop, but we are looking to get them excited... through different subject matters."

The program is no less a learning experience for University students, explained Wootton. An important part of the program is educating CMU students about the Hill District's rich history. Wootton pointed out that there seems to be a negative impression of the Hill District among college students, and this program will hopefully help to change that.

Becoming involved in this program does not require that you have experience working with children. Those interested will undergo training prior to the program's start in order to specifically learn how to interact and communicate with children in a manner that pushes them to do their best. "We do really want this to be a learning experience for CMU students, too," Wootton said. Leadership training also includes watching films, walking through the Hill District, and talking about the district's history. Nor does Leaders in Learning restrict University students by areas of academic interest. Once participants are selected through the application and interview process, the program does its best to match the strengths of the college students with the interests of elementary school students.

In fact, the workshops consist of much more than tutoring children in basics. "It won't be just 'sit down and write,'" said Judith Hallinen of the Center for School Outreach. Rather, Hallinen pointed out that elementary school students will be provided with such opportunities as writing and drawing in journals and constructing stories with one another.

Hallinen also emphasized the importance of the relationship in mentorship. "Our goal is to match University students with a specific child. We'd like it to be something where they can develop a trust and understanding," she said. According to Hallinen, a Leader in Learning should be committed, patient, and excited.

Leaders in Learning is part of Carnegie Mellon's Center for School Outreach. The center is responsible for maintaining ties between the programs and departments at Carnegie Mellon and students at K-12 schools in the Pittsburgh community.

The center offers student-to-student programs in a variety of areas, ranging from art to music to language. Growing Theater, for instance, helps middle school youth prepare and perform their own production. This eight-month program is an academic elective for CMU students and it is open to all departments. Program information is available at the center's website (

Fun, creativity, and creating good relationships are the highlights for both University and elementary school students alike. "We very much want this to be a learning and growing experience for students.... It's very much a partnership," Wootton said.