It’s a Thursday after school and 12 KIPP Kirkpatrick students have their heads buried in laptops. Every few seconds there’s a shriek of delight or a, “Woah!”
These third graders are learning to code, something they’ve never had a chance to explore. The coding instruction is wrapped into a fun lesson meant to unleash a monster on screen. Depending on the specific coding, different music might play, or the monster will have a new accessory. Each child can put their unique spin on what they’re learning.
This class is one small part of a yearlong relationship that Elmington, a property management company based in Nashville, cultivated with KIPP Kirkpatrick Elementary School over the 2018-2019 school year.
Crystal Blaylock, the Executive Director of Elmington Elevates, oversees finding partnership opportunities throughout the community and says she was excited to take on KIPP Kirkpatrick for their first “Club Elevates” program.
“Club Elevates was designed to include some really intentional relationship building between our volunteers and the students. That was the heart of the program,” explains Blaylock. “We wanted the kids to know that we care about them and their education and we planned to be a consistent part of their lives. Beyond that, we looked at our volunteer group and identified topics and real-world skills that they were knowledgeable in and passionate about. We sourced some of the curriculum from online experts, developed some from scratch and asked community members to volunteer their expertise.”
Mandy Gillespie, Elmington’s Accounts Payable Manager, says she jumped at the chance to volunteer weekly, “As a mother to two young boys, I often see the impact that others have on my children, whether it be coaches, teachers, or their friends’ parents. I wanted to make a difference by offering the kids at KIPP encouragement and a new opportunity to express themselves aside from the day-to-day bustle of school.”
The program has spanned a variety of topics. For one session, Blaylock worked with Metro Nashville police officers who regularly spend time at the school and brought them in to lead a lesson on what it’s like to be a detective. Students worked as a team to solve the crime while also getting to know the officers a little better.
Club Elevates students also visited the Adventure Science Center and a fire station. While there was intentionality behind planning the program content, Blaylock says almost more importantly, they were focused on developing consistent and positive relationships with the students.
Blaylock says, “About a month into our meetings, one of our students came up and unexpectedly gave me a big hug, then said, ‘Thanks for coming back!’ It was such a simple gesture. He made the comment then walked away, but it had a huge impact on me. Showing up consistently was the benchmark for starting a relationship. It’s something I tell all of our volunteers now.”
“My favorite part has been seeing the kids get invested with some of our projects and learning important things while having fun,” adds Kevin Hoyer, Assistant Controller at Elmington. “An example of that was when our kids got to build actual machines, learn with trial and error and adjust their initial designs to what actually worked. Our kids got to then sell their devices, so on sale day they experienced a small taste of what it is like to be an entrepreneur and run a business. They had a ton of fun seeing the products they made turn into cash they could buy prizes with.”
Back to the coding project at hand, Jayden is concentrating on his work, trying to experiment with the different colors, sounds and objects he can make appear on screen.
“My favorite activity so far as been the coding,” he says. “I love when you spell out the coding and then it shows up on screen.”
Jayden loves the activities and Jordyn says she feels a special connection with Mandy, her Elmington friend.
“I love being with Mandy,” says Jordyn, who is actually hugging Mandy from behind while she talks about her. “She helps people and I really like spending time together.”
Mandy is laughing while Jordyn hugs her and says, “I love the kids and it’s been such a fun experience getting to be with them every week and watch them grow.”
This year’s Club Elevates culminates with all students spending a week at Camp Widjiwagan in June completely free of charge to their families.
Blaylock says they hope to expand Club Elevates in the 2019-2020 school year by increasing the participation to 20 students and adding more external learning opportunities throughout the Nashville community.
“We’ve built a joyful and meaningful program, for both our employees and our student participants, this year and we are excited to see how Club Elevates continues to grow and expand!”