E-Mentoring Program Brings Professionals into Lives of Kids in Need
Cricket Media is a global education company that’s created an innovative e-mentoring program making a critical difference in the lives of children in need.
CricketTogether, Cricket Media’s e-mentoring platform, leverages technology to bring working professionals into the lives of children in third through fifth grade around the discussion of fascinating, engaging texts by way of email.
The Best Six Weeks of My Life
Nina Zolt, co-founder of Cricket Media, recently described for me a compelling concept: Children read articles from Cricket publications—high-quality magazines my own children subscribed to when they were little—then they exchange letters with a “pen pal” through the safe, online CricketTogether portal. Through the exchanges, the child and a working, professional adult discuss the text that both have read.
“My goal is that every kid gets the opportunity to read Cricket publications,” Zolt told me. “Almost every major education publisher is licensing content from our magazines because it’s best of breed, it’s based on interviews with experts. When kids participate in CricketTogether, they’re getting informal exposure to text they’ll see in their classrooms and on standardized tests.”
This past summer Cricket Media partnered with Libraries Without Borders to bring CricketTogether to a high-poverty area of Detroit. The program was sponsored by Sony. “Our expectation was six letter exchanges per student,” Zolt told me. “It turned out to be an average of 10.” Kids in grades higher than fifth wanted to participate.
“One of them said ‘this was the best six weeks of my life!'” Zolt said.
A Learning Friendship
The students at Sugarland Elementary School have a sweet deal in store: Next year all four fifth-grade classes will get to participate in CricketTogether. Sugarland’s principal, Gail Brady, Ph.D., says the effect on the children was life-changing.
“The program started last year with a fifth-grade classroom. The teacher had challenging students—not behaviorwise, but they had hard home lives. It was hard to motivate them to pick up a book.”
But after CricketTogether, “I tell you it was transformational. Those kids began reading. Our kids love it,” Brady says.
Sugarland Elementary is 78% Hispanic, and 80% to 85% of the student body is eligible for free or reduced lunch. But by establishing a personal connection with professionals outside of their immediate experience, the youngsters begin to imagine a different future for themselves.
Zolt says reading A Nation at Risk years ago inspires her work. “I thought how could we devise a ‘multivitamin’ for kids in struggling school systems. I saw that most of the kids that succeeded had a caring adult in their lives. I also saw how important reading and writing and critical thinking are in succeeding in schools and careers.”
Zolt wanted to get good content into the hands of kids and engage them in authentic written conversations with adults. That way they’d learn that “there’s a big, wide, welcoming world out there and people who care about them, who have different kinds of lives and careers.”
This phenomenal program is expanding—it’s bringing STEM concepts to third through fifth graders to affirm their interest in math and science. In January, CricketMedia and partner IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization for engineers, will launch TryEngineering Together.
“What we decided is to reach more diverse students earlier,” Zolt says. “There are not enough people of color or women in engineering. We’re providing great content on how great engineering makes the world a better place.”
Zolt also says that the effort is collaborative. “We need local sponsors, local schools, and especially business owners of color. When business owners of color mentor kids the effects are stronger.”
For more about CricketTogether, visit its website.