Community volunteerism oftentimes changes lives for the better, especially when the focus is on children in need. For Edina High School’s Aspire Mentoring program, the focus is the same even if the location has been temporarily altered. Aspire Mentoring is a student-led club that tutors academically at-risk inner-city students on a weekly basis between the months of October and March.
Founded nearly two decades ago at Minnetonka High School, under the name Backpack Tutors, the program has historically garnered support from both students and the community in a combined effort to tutor elementary students in Minneapolis. Most recently, the program was at Folwell School in Minneapolis; until budget cuts at Edina High School forced the program to find a local organization closer to home. As a result, the program has shifted its focus to a local Kid’s Club in Edina, leading Aspire Mentoring to become an independent group separate from Backpack Tutors, and away from tutoring inner-city elementary students for the first time.
“Losing the school we used to tutor at was difficult,” says former president and graduated senior Cecilia Orth. “We felt that we made a big difference in connecting with the kids in Minneapolis and helping them learn. There’s an enormous achievement gap in the community, so it has been very important for us to help where we’re needed.”
The focus on Kid’s Club this past year, Orth says, was a big change for Aspire Mentoring, but one that sticks to the program’s core values.
“We tried our best to help the kids at Kid’s Club by simply being role models to them and giving them someone to look up to,” Orth says. “They look up to us as high school students, so it makes connecting with them and giving them someone to talk to really special.”
For seniors and co-presidents Emma Anderson and Isabel Melton, the bonds forged from the program are what make the volunteer effort truly special. “The relationships between students and tutors change drastically throughout the year. Some students are initially unwilling to cooperate with volunteers,” Anderson says. “But by the end of the program everyone is hugging and not wanting to say goodbye when March comes around.”
This past summer, Aspire Mentoring also helped at the Sumner Library in Heritage Park, Mpls. Aspire Mentoring continues to search for funding through grant applications and fundraising events. Orth and Anderson hope to see the program return to its roots of tutoring at-risk elementary students.
“Tutoring students has been the goal of the program since day one, so I’d love to see it go back to that,” Orth says. “That’s why I fell in love with the program in the first place. I have loved making a difference in the lives of these children and helping them achieve their academic goals. It’s a very humbling and rewarding experience for everyone involved.”
As one of the incoming presidents for the 2019-2020 year, Anderson hopes to guide the focus of the program back onto supporting a school that would benefit most from the academic assistance offered by volunteers.“Our goal is really to focus on why [Aspire Mentoring] was founded in the first place and get back to supporting communities who will benefit from our help,” she says. “I struggled with schoolwork when I was an elementary student, so I love seeing students grow as I did and thriving in their education. I believe in them and know that they can do anything.”