#KidsNeedMentors

Much of the past few weeks of my life has been spent staring at spreadsheets. No, I didn’t suddenly become uber-organized. And no, I didn’t take up accounting as a new hobby. I’ve been playing “matchmaker” for authors and educators, helping pair them up for the 2018-2019 school year as part of the #KidsNeedMentors program.

#KidsNeedMentors is a project that author Ann Braden, 5th grade teacher Kristin Crouch, 5th grade teacher Kristen Picone, and I launched back in May. The idea behind it is simple: instead of having authors visit a classroom (either virtually or in-person) for 30 minutes or an hour and then say goodbye, why not have them return on a regular basis and form a deeper — and more beneficial — connection with students.

I’ve been wanting to create such a program for a while now, both after watching a similar (though somewhat less ambitious) program get launched across in the Atlantic in the U.K., and after learning about the wonderful results of such a longterm connection between teacher librarian Carrie Davies and author/illustrator Aaron Zenz.

However, it wasn’t until I’d met Ann Braden and worked with her on our #KidsNeedBooks project (in the process discovering that she is uber-organized, and that she can make spreadsheets like no other) that I thought launching such a program of our own might actually be possible. We discussed it a handful of times, including once up in Burlington, VT, at nErDcampVT, and then did so again one morning on Twitter. Kristin and Kristen — being the incredibly giving, creative, and student-focused individuals they are — immediately offered to be a part of the organizational team. We spent the rest of the morning hashing out ideas and talking about logistics, and after a few “Should we do this?” “We should do this.” “Should we do this?” back-and-forths, we finally said, Let’s do this.

The response blew us away. Within a couple of days, 300 educators had signed up, and nearly the same number of authors. We had to cap things there and start a waitlist just to make sure we could give our proper attention and support to those 500-something participants during the school year. The waitlist has been growing steadily since May, both on the educator and the author side — confirming that, yes, authors are eager to collaborate with teachers, librarians, and administrators in order to further connect with their young readers. For many of us authors, that’s the best part of the job!

This weekend, 300 educator/author pairs are receiving e-mails that begin like this:

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Now the fun starts. Those educator/author teams will work together to design experiences that will most benefit, excite, and inspire the students they’ll work with. And several pairs have already hit the ground running! It’s been thrilling to see e-mail exchanges in which authors lay out loads of great ideas — Erin Soderberg Downing and Nancy Churnin have plans to give the kids they’ll be working with behind-the-scenes peeks at the book-making process, and are even willing to let them be a part of that process for books they have coming out during the upcoming school year. The possibilities are truly endless, and I cannot wait to see what these collaborations lead to.

Working with Ann, Kristin, and Kristen has been a dream (Go, TeamJAKK!). I’m beyond honored to call each of them a friend, and so excited to see where our collaboration takes us in the future.

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. . .

To learn more about Carrie Davies and Aaron Zenz’s collaboration, check out this post by them at the NerdyBookClub.

To learn more about #KidsNeedMentors — and get yourself on the waitlist/included for next year! — check out this post on Ann Braden’s site.

And check out this recent #KidsNeedMentors profile Kara Yorio wrote for the School Library Journal!

And if you want to see how #KidsNeedMentors unfolds in classrooms around the world — we’ve got educators based in the States, Canada, Africa, and Asia! — follow the hashtag on Twitter, where participants will be regularly tweeting about what they’re up to.

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