BC Soars Mentoriship Program Helps Bring College Experience To Elementary School Kids

Constantly surrounded by a community of fellow college students balancing academic work with clubs and extra curricular activities, a Boston College student may forget that a college education is not the fate for every 18- to 22-year-old. 

BC Soars, a mentoring organization on campus, strives to help bring the dream and later the reality of a college education to elementary school students at James Otis Elementary School in East Boston.

BC Soars is in its inaugural academic year as an organization on campus, as it was just started in September 2013. Through the larger organization of ESS (Education for Students by Students) that runs programs like BC Splash, BCTalks, and BC Nests, BC Soars attempts to excite the young students of James Otis about the possibility of a college education. 

Inspired by their own placement at James Otis while taking PULSE as well as by their experience with BC Splash, co-founders Brittany Burke, LSOE ’15, and Traea Vaillancourt, A&S ’15, wanted to help these young elementary school students understand what a college experience is like. 

“We were meeting these great kids at James Otis who didn’t understand college or what the experience was all about,” Vaillancourt said. “They didn’t have family members or friends to advise them on it. So the idea was to take the concept of educating students by BC students and apply that to a different demographic that is a little less privileged.”

BC Soars set itself up with a two-semester plan. The fall semester focused on fostering relationships with the students at James Otis at the school, while the spring semester aims to bring these students to BC’s campus to give them a taste of what college life is like. “The first semester focused on, ‘what does it mean to live in East Boston?'” Burke said. “[How to] immerse ourselves and understand that situation better before we bring the students here and teach them about what we find valuable as a college student.”

During the fall, members of BC Soars went into James Otis once a week during the lunch and recess block to work with a small group of fourth grade students toward a project that they presented at a final event at the end of the semester. 

The BC members could also work with first grade students in a literacy buddy program. BC students work one-on-one with first graders to improve their literacy skills, especially because most students’ first language is not English.

 BC Soars added this literacy buddy program that runs throughout the school day as a way to integrate BC students who may not have been able to meet the lunch and recess time restrictions of their fourth grade program.

Although first and fourth grade may seem early to start promoting college education, BC Soars believes that it is this early push that can most affect students. “Starting young and planting that idea can help these students make decisions now that will help set them up in the future,” Vaillancourt said. 

The final aspect of BC Soars involves weekly reflection groups consisting of e-board members and mentors. “The groups would talk about issues of social justice,” Burke said. “So the idea was to incorporate personal development with an understanding of, what does it mean to serve.”  

According to Burke, the theme of this second semester for BC Soars centers on what it means to be a college student. 

The organization will host an event similar to that of BC Splash wherein James Otis fourth graders will spend the day on BC’s campus. “We will have BC students teach classes that they are passionate about, ranging from academic to extracurricular subjects,” Burke said.

“The idea for the final event is college in a day,” Vaillancourt said. “We want to makes sure the students come and get the full experience. They will get a letter of acceptance that has their mentor’s picture on it. We want to try to get everything that we experience in our four years here and try to pack it into one day.”

BC Soars wants the James Otis students to leave with a fuller understanding of what a college experience could look like. “We are going to top the day off with a graduation at the end and give them something to take home,” Vaillancourt said. “Something that they will keep and remember until it is high school and time for them to be looking at options for college.” 

As a new organization on campus, BC Soars will continue to welcome new and interested mentors until the middle of March. “We really embrace this idea of inclusivity,” Burke said. “Our goal is to include as many people as we can.”