Landis Center for Community Engagement program helps area kids by building confidence, providing academic support, and inspiring future dreams
By Stephen Wilson
Students fill a long table in the cafeteria of Easton Area Middle School. They are waiting for the arrival of white vans bearing the Lafayette College logo.
Soon a line of college students file in and activities begin.
Today the focus is gratitude.
The long table of middle schoolers is broken into smaller groups paired with a few Lafayette students. The groups spread across the cafeteria.
Over the course of the next hour, the students and their Lafayette mentors talk about and express their gratitude in the form of pictures, letters, and journals.
All of them have narrowed their long lists of thanks to a single item that they write on a sticky note and place on the gratitude tree.
Welcome to LafKid Connect, a new middle school program inspired by Adam Finkelstein ’20 and fully developed and operated by students under the Landis Center for Community Engagement. The program was the recent recipient of a gift from Thomas R. ’67 and Sharon L. Smith.
Launching just prior to the pandemic, the program had to morph and evolve.
Steering that endeavor were Camille Carthy ’23 and Samantha Riebesell ’23, and other members of the executive board.
It began with two meetings per week. The first focused on a discussion topic that included games. The second invited Lafayette clubs to lead activities, so the literary magazine had a poetry workshop while the Geological Society of Lafayette gave a quick presentation on geology and showed a fossil video.
Soon the school recognized that the Lafayette students might help with tutoring, so the next semester had a day dedicated to homework help followed by more club-oriented activities.
When Leopards finally returned to campus and the district opened its doors, the virtual world became more tangible and blurred virtual activities into a swirl of mentorship assistance.
Anchoring it all is the hope to get middle schoolers excited about college.
Each semester, the Gateway Career Center joins to discuss various post-secondary options, including trade schools, two-year colleges, and four-year colleges. Career counselors lead quizzes designed to help sixth, seventh, and eighth graders learn what might best align with their interests and talents.
The pre-dental and pre-health societies on campus have visited to discuss careers in medicine.
And as vaccinations help open up the campus more, the middle schoolers will visit College Hill to see and experience life as a college student.
The program has drawn a large group of Lafayette volunteers. Nearly 30 students participate and alternate visits to the middle school in two groups.
Being able to visit the Easton school has helped ignite imaginations. Most notably, the sustainability club had a member drive his converted school bus over and allow the middle schoolers to cook s’mores on his solar-powered cooktop.
Buying marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers is possible thanks to the gift from the Smiths.
Sharon Smith visited campus in the fall and spoke with LafKid Connect leaders and participants. She discussed why they funded the program and the importance of being involved in the community that surrounds the College. She also passed along some important nuggets from her time as a teacher about the mental, emotional, and physical needs of middle schoolers.
Riebesell and Carthy understand this firsthand as they interacted with students over the past year and a half.
“In middle school, students are working to figure out who they are and what they aspire to be,” says Riebesell.
“We are often seen as peers and can build unique relationships with them and help to influence their thinking and direction,” says Carthy.
“It is a vulnerable age, and their feedback has shown that we have helped them build their confidence, improve their self-care, and forgive their own shortcomings.”
That alone deserves a note of gratitude.
Supporting community-based learning and research activities at Lafayette by facilitating partnerships between the campus and Easton communities