A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ludlow schools introduces Adopt a Class program to connect students to mentors in the community

By Patricia A. Scheyer
NKyTribune reporter

Ludlow Independent Schools is pairing with the Chamber of Commerce to introduce a new program to their students next year.

For one hour once a month students from grades K through 8 will be mentored by companies who choose to be part of the program.

Superintendent Michael Borchers talks about improvements at Ludlow Schools and how it is important to invest in new programs. (Photos by Patricia Scheyer/NKyTribune)

“The Adopt a Class program connects businesses and civic groups to serve as group mentors with students from underserved communities throughout Greater Cincinnati,” said Sonya Fultz, CEO of the Adopt a Class program. “Our program exposes students, grades K-8, to a variety of experiences and careers, while also fostering a culture of teamwork among the mentors.”

Ludlow held an informational breakfast this week to bring businesses within the city together with the founder and CEO of the Adopt a Class program, Bill Burwinkel and Fultz so they can make informed decisions as to if this program is something they want to support and take part in.

This program is already in 36 area schools in Greater Cincinnati, and more than 2500 volunteers mentor over 6700 students.

“Our approach to group mentoring is unique,” Fultz explained. “By pairing mentor teams with a classroom teacher, our volunteers mentor the same classroom each school year. Throughout the year mentors engage with their students one hour, once a month using educational activities, and field trips to keep the students engaged.”

Bill Burwinkle, founder of the Adopt a Class program, told he group about how he started it 40 years ago.

Angela Easton is a Warehousing Supervisor at Duke Energy, and she is taking part in the program. Currently she has three classrooms in three schools.

“This program fits where my heart is,” she related. “I’m really a 12-year-old inside. I tell my teams, don’t bring anything, just show up, go into the classrooms and have fun. I remember one time we brought some of the equipment that we wear, like hard hats, vests, gloves to explain the safety protocols we take. The kids didn’t want to take the stuff off, they were so proud to wear it. And when we were back at work, I told my people, be as proud to wear this safety gear as those kids were to wear it. This program is a chance to share who we are as people.”

Fultz agreed, saying she has had the Cincinnati Swat team flying drones in the hallways, and Gravity Diagnostics had the students extracting DNA from strawberries.

“A lot of people don’t know that if your city has a river, you have a Coast Guard,” Fultz stated. “The Coast Guard explained to the kids what an oil spill does to the river. And then they showed them, in the classroom, letting them create oil spills to see what it does to water. So you don’t have to worry, whatever your company is, I promise we can make you exciting!”

Adopt a Class CEO Sonya Fultz explained how businesses and groups can be part of the program.

Fultz said there was a bank, who dealt in some stock market dealings, and they encouraged their class to play stock market games and helped them set up portfolios with a few stocks that they could speculate with.

“All kids get the opportunity for field trips,” Fultz said. “For grades three through five, we organize trips that specialize in science, technology, and math, and in grades 6 through 8 we visit Gateway and find out about their two-year pathway. In seventh grade we like to feature the trades, to let them see what they could go into when they are older. As 8th graders, we go way beyond the walls of Ludlow to let them visit colleges like NKU or UC.”

Bill Burwinkel started the program from his basement 40 years ago. He told how he was in a sales company, but he signed up to be part of a mentoring program, and his time was 10 a.m. on Wednesdays. Due to the fact that he was in sales, he traveled frequently and sometimes missed his designated time.

“I had missed about half of my times that year,” Burwinkel remembered. “The student I was assigned to told me I was like a lot of other people in his life that say they are going to do something and then they didn’t do it.”

He vowed to change that.

Angela Easton, Duke Energy, has been part of the Adopt a Class program for a few years — and loves it.

Funding for the program consists of 50 percent from corporate members like Duke Energy, and 50 percent from foundations and community.

Jennifer McMillen, Director of Student Services at Ludlow Independent Schools, was looking for something that would focus on the K through 8 grade group of students.

“This is our missing piece to hit that K through 8 level,” she said. “We have so many great programs for our students, but we were looking for something else for that group of students.”

School Superintendent Michael Borchers started off the breakfast meeting by running through the facts of being a river city school with facilities built in 1902 and 1935.

“Seventy-two percent of our students qualify for free and reduced meals,” he said. “Nineteen percent are in the special needs population. We are in the lowest 10 percent of property values. However, we have never used these as excuses. We were number 1 in high school writing scores in the state, as well as number 3 in high school reading scores and number 10 in high school math and social studies.”

Director of Student Services Jennifer McMillen related how she thought the program fit well into Ludlow’s curriculum.

He listed programs that Ludlow has put into their schools, and summarized the renovation of the buildings and the stadium. He told the visitors that 80 percent of Ludlow’s graduates have college credits. He also said 40 children have free preschool due to a special grant.

“We are always looking for programs that benefit our students,” he said. “We look at the whole child, and strive for continuous improvement.”

The Adopt a Class program will officially start this fall, with mentor teams starting in the classrooms in October. In the meantime, businesses can sign up for the program by contacting the group at www.aacmentos.org or email them at info@AACMentors.org.

“This provides a totally different way to look at your coworkers,” Fulks said. “Until you see your coworker constructing an electric current with third graders, you really don’t know a different part of their personality. We find that we get a chance to see each other differently — it’s a culture shift.”

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