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'It basically gives them their own personal cheerleader': Mentors show Bloomington students college life



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Deena Elsheikh, president of College Mentors for Kids at IU, holds Qa'el, one of the children she has worked with through the program, which was founded in 1995 by two IU students to help underserved elementary school students in Bloomington and Indianapolis. Courtesy Photo

For some IU Bloomington students, it may be shocking to walk into a lecture hall and see elementary school students filling the seats. But for members of College Mentors for Kids, it’s exciting to see children getting interested in a college education.

The IU chapter for College Mentors for Kids is a service-group designed to get local elementary school students interested in and familiarized with college. College students are paired with first-through-sixth graders from Fairview, Templeton and Arlington Heights elementary schools in Bloomington. 

The children meet with their mentors once a week and participate in activities designed to introduce them to a college campus, such as watching chemistry experiments or meeting the IU track team.

The activities are designed to show the children that they can do whatever they want as an adult, College Mentors President Deena Elsheikh said. 

“It’s really important that kids are able to see that they can accomplish whatever they want,” Elsheikh said. “Having this program and having a consistent mentor every week, that kind of shows them that college can be good for them.”

College Mentors was founded in 1995 by two IU students to help underserved elementary school students in Bloomington and Indianapolis. lt has 34 college chapters and 2,800 college student members across the United States according to the group's website. 

Elsheikh, a senior, said she joined College Mentors her freshman year after hearing girls from her residence hall talk about the program. She was paired with a second grader student named Maren as her first “little buddy,” the term the group uses to refer to children in the program. 

“It basically gives them their own personal cheerleader, someone who is there to support them and show them that you can be successful in college,” Elsheikh said.

While College Mentors tries to familiarize children with the IU campus, Elsheikh said getting them to go to college isn’t the strict goal of the group. Instead, it exists to encourage students to pursue their passions, even if those passions don’t require a college education.

“Basically, we’re just a constant support system because a lot of them don’t have that,” Elsheikh said. 

Vice President Claire Malkovich said she joined the group her sophomore year after seeing a sidewalk chalk message about the group. 

“I guess I was always really drawn to being able to work with kids in different ways,” Malkovich said. 

Malkovich was a mentor to two students, a third grade girl and a sixth grade boy, before becoming a part of the executive board. Although executive board members don’t serve as mentors, Malkovich said she loves seeing children make connections with the college students and experience everything IU can offer. 

“You see something that they’re excited about,” she said. “They really are enjoying themselves." 

Jacob Levy said he joined the group because he wanted to participate in a service activity and not just show up for club meetings. Levy is a mentor as well as a general manager who organizes and runs activities. He said the program encourages children to be more self-assured. 

“There’s something empowering about feeling confident in yourself,” Levy said. 

Levy said his favorite memories from College Mentors are of playing tag with a particularly energetic student in lecture halls and other campus spaces that he typically associated with exams and assignments. 

“It was really sort of funny and also gratifying to not feel the intense pressure of college and play something as simple as tag with a kid on campus,” Levy said. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that College Mentors President Deena Elsheikh is a junior. She is a senior. It also misstated the name of the second grade student Elsheikh was paired with her freshman year. Her name is Maren, not Lauren. The story also left out Templeton Elementary School originally. The IDS regrets these errors.

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