St. Thomas recently hosted its 13th cohort of young students participating in the Step-Up Boys Mentorship Program, a unique partnership between the St. Thomas School of Education and the Northwest Suburban Integration School District. Young men in middle school are invited to participate and learn more about what it takes to succeed in high school, in postsecondary education and beyond.
The mentorship program includes touchpoints in their home schools throughout the year, but first they go through an intense weeklong summer kickoff event. The founding organizers asked School of Education staff member Ea Porter for St. Thomas’ help in hosting the summer event.
“I asked Dr. Bruce Kramer, our dean at the time, and he said yes,” recalled Porter, St. Thomas’ ongoing liaison to the program. “He knew it was the right thing to do, and it was a chance to support the community.”
Under Porter’s leadership, the partnership has grown dramatically since that first cohort. Groups have ranged in numbers from 55 to more than 100 boys. St. Thomas education students now participate and gain clinical practice time for their work. Page Scholar Cory Kemp ’18 and alumnus Ayo Idowu ’13 have volunteered over the years. And the Admissions team visits each cohort to give them information about St. Thomas and to answer questions about the college search process.
Many Step-Up students have matriculated to St. Thomas, including Malcolm Lawson ’20. St. Thomas wasn’t always on his radar, but the connections he made through the Step-Up program shined a light that kept blinking when he was making his final college decision. Teron Buford, a former St. Thomas admissions counselor, stayed in touch with Lawson in high school and throughout his college career. Much to St. Thomas’ benefit, Buford later encouraged Lawson to come back and join the Admissions team. He’s now busy recruiting the next class of Tommies.
“What really came alive for me during the mentorship program was my sense of self-advocacy, my worth. I developed confidence that I could add value,” said Lawson, who participated in student government, played football and basketball, and served as a student representative on the St. Thomas Board of Trustees. “I learned I am a person who has so much to give and to add. The Step-Up program is where I realized I have a lot to offer no matter my background.”
The Step-Up Summit will be back on campus next summer, and Porter remains thrilled to be involved. “I am a firm believer in planting seeds, and this partnership provides an introduction to St. Thomas to people who either don’t know us or may have a very limited view of us,” Porter said.