Sixth graders at Longfellow School study Middle Ages online with 'e-mentors'

Students and mentors meet face-to-face for year-end presentations


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Over the past school year, sixth graders at Longfellow School in Cambridge have been using leading-edge technologies to enhance their understanding of the Middle Ages. Taking advantage of the potential for collaboration that an Internet-connected classroom offers, students met online with "e-mentors" who helped them with projects and other learning activities.

The mentors -- based at IBM, MIT and Draper Laboratory -- provided guidance to students writing research papers on important historical figures of the Middle Ages. They also assisted students who edited movies for classroom presentations and helped them to create and memorize original soliloquies.

Students gave final presentations with their mentors in attendance at an end-of-year celebration held today at the MIT Stratton Student Center.

"This has been an incredibly productive year for both our students and their e-mentors," said Kenneth Neal, assistant principal at Longfellow School. "The students began by interviewing their e-mentors online and ultimately wrote their biographies which have been published in a booklet. They also worked on a variety of research and writing assignments, including a persuasive essay on whether King Arthur was real or fictional. They even worked with their mentors online to write poetry. This is the kind of activity which truly enriches classroom learning."

The end-of-year event today marks the third year that employees from IBM, MIT and Draper Laboratory have adopted the entire sixth grade class at Longfellow School for virtual mentoring. According to Paul Parravano, co-director of government and community relations in the office of the president of MIT, the program has enriched the lives of both the Longfellow students and their adult mentors, and he looks forward to future collaborations between the employee groups and the local school. "We're thrilled to host this luncheon today, because it gives us the opportunity to salute the students, teachers and e-mentors who achieved a great deal together this year," he said.

"There are thousands of employees in our area who would love to share their talents and experience with children in local classrooms, if only they had the time to volunteer," said Maura Banta, IBM manager of corporate community relations. "Technology can now break down the barriers of time and space, enabling busy employees to actually participate effectively in schools as e-mentors. Education is a top priority at IBM, where over 3,500 employees are volunteering as e-mentors in schools worldwide."

Cambridge School Volunteers (CSV), the 35-year-old agency responsible for promoting volunteerism in the Cambridge Public Schools, coordinates the mentoring program at Longfellow, as well as nine other corporate volunteer programs.

"Teachers are enthusiastic supporters of e-mentoring programs," said Lisa Van Vleck, director of corporate projects at CSV. "They credit e-mentors with introducing students to different working environments while providing encouraging feedback on student writing."

The mentoring program supports the literacy goals set by Superintendent Bobbie D'Allesandro by helping students develop the ability to communicate ideas effectively.

"Good reading and writing skills continue to serve as the fundamental tools for success in schools and the workplace," said Kathleen Granchelli, director of public and employee communications for Draper Lab. "We're pleased to partner with our colleagues at IBM and MIT in serving the sixth grade students at Longfellow School."


Topics: Cambridge, Boston and region, Volunteering, outreach, public service

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