Making Contact with Gifted Students in the VSB

This Friday, I will be attending the end of semester celebration for the Making Contact Mentorship Program, offered as Gifted/Enrichment Education programming through the Vancouver School Board. This is the second year in a row that I have participated in the program as a Creative Writing mentor. The program is always looking for more great mentors, so my purpose in blogging about Making Contact is to hopefully drum up more interest among my brainy and talented readers.

I was originally referred to the program by my friend, playwright and thesbian extraordinaire Emily Pearlman of MiCasa Theatre (Ottawa) who had volunteered with Making Contact as a writing mentor in the past. She is no longer living in the city but she found the program rewarding and thought I would enjoy it. She was right.

The purpose of Making Contact is to connect gifted Vancouver students with mentors who have expertise (or, in my case, skills and a helluva passion) for the same subject. The subjects explored could be almost anything. Making Contact is really only limited by the interests of the students participating and the ability of the program to find suitable mentors (in my limited involvement with the program, I have become aware of a variety of mentorships which included the following subjects: comedy, insects, film making, history, marine biology, comic book art, robotics, and transit planning). At the end of the program, students share the projects they have made with their peers, parents, and mentors at a celebration and in the Vancouver School Board office (projects will be on display there later this month if you’d like to check them out).

A unique characteristic of this particular program is that it is designed to provide enrichment programming to gifted VSB elementary students. Though several mentorship programs determine eligibility based on financial need or family circumstances, participation in Making Contact is determined by the talents and gifts of the students being referred, and their ability to make commitments of time and effort to the program. People have sometimes been surprised that the young writers I have mentored were not in financial or academic need, but to me a child is a child. The gifted children in Making Contact come from a wide range of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds and are not necessarily in financial need, however, gifted children often experience isolation and frustration stemming from differences between them and their peers, and the inability of school programming to keep pace with their skills and interests. A program such as Making Contact allows these gifted students to benefit not only from focused exploration in their area of interest, but also from having a role model who shares these passions and interests.

I have been very lucky to have met both of the students I have mentored through Making Contact. They are extremely bright, talented, and humorous young women and I feel privileged to have been able to help them express their creativity through writing. I have also been able to strengthen my own writing through sharing my skills–a benefit which several Making Contact mentors across disciplines have discovered and discussed with me.

At the end of the day, participation in this kind of volunteer work just gives me the warm fuzzies. I get to spend an hour or so every week talking about writing and books (yay!) with a promising young person who shares my interest (yay!) and, well, I get to be a human being, making contact with another human being in a structured and mutually beneficial way. And that’s fantastic.

The subjects that interest the students referred to the Making Contact Mentorship Program are in fact so varied that you may not be aware that your skills and knowledge (either through your job or your hobbies) could be of interest and help to a Vancouver elementary student (for example, I had no idea so many K-7 students were interested in chess!). For information regarding which areas of expertise Making Contact is currently seeking mentors for, please visit their Current Needs page.

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