50 Lynwood Eighth Graders to Visit Pomona College Mentors on Campus
Fifty Lynwood Middle School students will visit Pomona College in Claremont, on Thursday, March 25, to meet their college pen pals, talk about college and middle school life, and explore the college campus. Other events include a scavenger hunt and painting a mural on a college wall dedicated to student art and communication.
Inspired by Teach for America, Pomona College senior Jessica Gale started the Pomona College Pen Pal Mentoring Program in fall 2002 as a way for college students to learn about and gain experience in city schools, prior to their own graduation. She wanted the program to allow students to have a big impact but it also needed a time commitment that would fit into students’ busy schedules.
By several measures, the project has met those goals. In its first year, approximately 100 sixth-graders and a like number of college students exchanged almost 1000 letters. This year, approximately 50 Lynwood eighth-graders and their mentors will have exchanged approximately 300 letters. The program shifted to follow its Lynwood connection with teacher Amelia Matera, who was assigned to eighth-graders this year.
The program has been educational for both sides. “Pomona students,” explains Gale, “get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what is going on in the Los Angeles public education system. When school reform measures, like the midyear reassignment of Ms. Matera's students, disrupted our regular letter delivery schedule, Pomona students began asking their pen pals questions like, ‘What is going on at Lynwood Middle School?’ Likewise, Lynwood students suddenly wanted to know everything there is to know about college.
At Lynwood Middle School, over 40% of the students’ parents lack a high school diploma and less than 10% have graduated from college. The vast majority of Ms. Matera's students had never cultivated a close relationship with someone who had attended college, let alone considered a college education within their reach.
A recent letter from Gale’s pen pal illuminated the achievement gap between high and low-income students. “In my last letter to her,” explains Gale, “I wrote about how much I like to read. In this one, she told me that she had just gotten her library card, and she’s reading Charlotte’s Web. I was really excited that she’s reading more, but it hit me that I had a library card before I could read, and I read Charlotte’s Web in 3rd grade. I also thought it was interesting that at a recent Pomona event where people read bedtime story to college students, our College President brought Charlotte’s Web.”
Last year’s sixth-grade participants were just as responsive, notes Gale. “In the first letter on both ends, the students filled out a survey of fun questions. One of them was ‘If you could take a trip around the world, who would you take and why?’ I was surprised by how many sixth-graders said they would take their Pomona pen pal, even though they had only exchanged one letter. Right away, I could see that these kids were reaching out to form these relationships, fascinated by the college experience.”
In Lynwood, teacher Matera created a special "College Corner" in her classroom and reserved time after each letter delivery to address such pressing questions as: "Ms. Matera, what is a Bachelor's degree?"; "Ms. Matera, what’s a major?"; and most importantly, "Ms. Matera, can I go to college too?"
The Lynwood students will be on Pomona’s campus from 9:45 a.m. until 2 p.m. The schedule of the day’s events is: 10-10:30 welcome, 10:30-11:30 – photo scavenger hunt/ tour of campus; 11:30-12:15 – lunch in Frary Dining Hall; and 12:15-1:45 - painting Walker Wall and small group time.
Pomona College, one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, offers a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Founded in 1887, its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.
Pomona College Senior and
Pen Pal Mentoring Program Founder
Clarence M. Thomas
Director, Community Outreach
Associate Director, Public Affairs