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Education Pathway Students Mentor Ellis Third Graders

student wearing a mask, looking at a laptop in the classroom

The experience of mentoring third grade students at Ellis Elementary School convinced Jaszmin Minneyfield that she made the right choice to pursue teaching as a career.

Minneyfield is one of 20 students at Rockford University who graduated in 2020 from Rockford Public Schools and who are now part of the Education Pathway program. They receive a scholarship for all four years of their education and the option to return to RPS 205 as teachers.

Minneyfield, a graduate of Auburn High School, didn’t realize she wanted to become a teacher until the summer before her senior year. After working for the Rockford Park District for three summers as a camp counselor, she thought to herself: “I want to do this all the time. Not just the summers.”

In the first semester at RU, Minneyfield and other members of her pathway cohort were enrolled in a freshman seminar class. The Education Department had worked with the university to design a community-based learning project as part of the seminar, according to Kelly Monson, an education professor at RU. The idea was to partner with RPS 205 to provide mentoring at a school. Then the pandemic happened.

The project continued as planned, except the mentoring was done virtually via Zoom. Monson said the Pathway students designed lessons and came up with activities for the Ellis third graders, based on learning objectives in the curriculum. 

Ellis Principal Taren Turner said organizers were afraid virtual mentoring wouldn’t have the same impact. “It actually magnified it,” Turner said. “During this pandemic, we have all been looking for ways to make school feel as comforting and supportive and normal as normal can be.” 

The mentoring had another benefit: It provided an early introduction for the Ellis students about what college is like.

As part of writing assignments, the third graders asked the RU Pathway students about their college experience. While Ellis staff regularly talk to students about the importance of continuing their education, the bonds with the Pathway mentors provided real-life reinforcement. “That’s the best authentic example we’ve ever provided Ellis students. We’re always talking about college readiness,” Turner said. 

Minneyfield hopes the mentoring relationship doesn’t stop with this semester. It’s especially important to her, as an African-American, to be a role model for students of color. She wonders if it might even lead them to be teachers themselves. “I want to see them become great young adults. That would be an amazing thing to see.”

Headshot of Mary Kaull

Mary Kaull

Mary Kaull has worked in communications for the Rockford Public Schools since 2012. She has lived in near northwest Rockford for 30 years and has two adult children. In her spare time, she exercises, reads, cooks and contemplates her growing pile of craft materials. She is fostering her son's hunting dog, Seamus.

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