Saturday, May 21, 2022

Get Schooled: Williamsburg Landing Residents are ‘Surrogate Grandparents’ for Rawls Byrd students

Williamsburg Landing residents have partnered with Rawls Byrd Elementary to mentor students for 29 years. (Courtesy Williamsburg Landing)
Williamsburg Landing residents have partnered with Rawls Byrd Elementary to mentor students for 29 years. (Courtesy Williamsburg Landing)

Many residents at Williamsburg Landing have two sets of grandchildren — their children’s children, and those they see once a week at Rawls Byrd Elementary.

For nearly 30 years, Landing residents have made the one-mile trip to Rawls Byrd to act as mentors for elementary students.

The residents fill a variety of roles at the school. Some help students with their math skills, others provide reading assistance, and some are there to provide the support only an elder could.

“We’re kind of like surrogate grandparents,” Williamsburg Landing resident John Seel said.

The mentoring program launched 29 years ago, one year after Williamsburg Landing first opened as a community.

For Rawls Byrd Counselor Mickie Meyer, who has been at the school for the entirety of the program, the partnership has clear benefits for both students and Landing residents.

“The children really look forward to the one-on-one attention,” Meyer said. “They say things to me like, ‘Which day does my volunteer come again?’”

Meyer said the program begins with the Rawls Byrd teachers. The teachers identify students who need some extra help with certain subjects, like reading or math.

Meyer then goes to Williamsburg Landing and invites residents to volunteer their time as subject “buddies” for the students. The mentors match their schedules with the school calendar and go through an orientation period before they begin their weekly rendezvouses with the students.

The teachers assign mentors to students depending on which students need help and as resources allow. Meyer said that means some mentors work with groups, while others work one-on-one with students.

Meyer said the program has been popular among residents throughout its history, consistently attracting 25 to 30 mentors.

“That kind of interaction can be very powerful,” Meyer said.

Kathy Kammer, senior director of community relations at Williamsburg Landing, said the mentors often bring academic achievements and expertise, in addition to life experience, to the mentoring relationships.

“A lot of our residents are former teachers or were involved in business or other things and were very successful,” she said. “That can really help the students.”

Kammer said former College of William & Mary President Thomas Graves had been a regular participant in the mentor program until recently.

Seel said he had participated in the mentoring program for several years, and had seen the benefits to students of one-on-one interactions with their mentors.

“I was partnered with this one young boy, and he would read a sentence out loud when we started, but it would be one word at a time — not a coherent sentence,” Seel said. “All of a sudden, he began to put it together. When that happens, you really feel great and have a sense of accomplishment.”

Seel said the program provided benefits for the mentors, as well.

“It’s a good way to get your grandparent fix,” he said.

After more than 10 years of leading the mentor program and 34 years at Rawls Byrd, Meyer is retiring at the end of the school year and is passing the reins of the program to Williamsburg Landing resident Jan Reinhart.

Despite her retirement, Meyer said she expects the program will continue to be an important part of the Rawls Byrd community.

“The people at Williamsburg Landing are some of the busiest people I know,” Meyer said. “It’s so great they make time to work with our kids. It’s so meaningful for the students.”

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