Going Eye to Eye with learning

Whitman College’s student mentorship of elementary schoolers celebrates its second year.

Eye to Eye program participant Angel Plantenberg, 11, talks with Whitman College students Aliza Whalen, center, and Meg Robinson, right, through a necklace of all her favorite things during the program's art show Tuesday evening.

Eye to Eye program participant Angel Plantenberg, 11, talks with Whitman College students Aliza Whalen, center, and Meg Robinson, right, through a necklace of all her favorite things during the program's art show Tuesday evening. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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Surrounded by student artwork, including a hot air balloon hung from the ceiling, Sharpstein Elementary School fifth-grader Jennifer Lewis, 10, jokes with her mentor, Whitman College sophomore Helena Victor, while the two talk about their experiences in the Eye to Eye art program at Whitman College's Fouts Center for Visual Arts Tuesday evening.

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Soaring among the clouds reflected in the windows of Whitman College's Fouts Center for Visual Arts building, Edison Elementary School fifth grade student Canon Salazar, 10, peers out at people arriving for the Eye to Eye art show and graduation ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

WALLA WALLA — A Whitman College program that mentors area children marked its second year of service this week with an art show.

Project Eye to Eye launched at Whitman two years ago in partnership with Edison, Green Park and Sharpstein elementary schools. The Whitman chapter is part of the national program that matches college students with dyslexia, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders with local elementary students who have similar issues that require different learning methods.

The three partner schools were chosen for their proximity to Whitman, said Juli Dunn, Project Eye to Eye advisor and director of academic resources.

Dunn said the program needed schools that Whitman students could easily walk or bike to in case student transportation to the school falls though. The Whitman program is uncommon compared to other national chapters because the elementary children travel by bus to the campus to work on projects in the college’s art department

“In future years, I would love to see us expand to include all the elementary schools,” Dunn said.

This school year, Project Eye to Eye matched 10 local elementary school students with 12 mentors, said Bella Zarate, a Whitman student and program coordinator for Eye to Eye.

Zarate, who has helped coordinate the program since it started two years ago, said children are matched one-on-one with a mentor and meet weekly to work on projects and talk about their individual learning differences.

“The students, while creating their projects, talk about their difficulties as well as their strengths in and outside of school,” Zarate explained. “The mentors often provide them with tips to keep them engaged in the classroom as well as ways to self-advocate for their needs. They are there to show them that they can be successful in whatever they want to do.”

The program has been made possible by support from Walla Walla Public Schools, which provided transportation to Whitman every week during the school year, and Whitman’s art department, which donates the meeting space.

Dunn said an added bonus was exposing students to a college setting.

“If one of the objectives was to help elementary students imagine a future in which they attended college, what better way than to get them onto a college campus on a weekly basis for an entire year,” Dunn said.

Zarate said the art show celebrated the children’s successes throughout the year. Their art will continue to be displayed at Fouts Center for the community to enjoy.

Dunn said the change in the elementary students from the start of the program to the end is clear.

“When I attended the info session at the beginning of the year, many of the students involved were embarrassed to be there,” Dunn said. “Now they exhibit self-confidence and pride in who they are and what strengths and talents being a student with a learning difference brings to the classroom. “This program not only empowers the elementary students,” she said, “but provides outstanding opportunities for personal reflections, student development and leadership among our college-aged mentors.”

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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