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Elevators Program Celebrates Five Years

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A program "elevating" the aspirations of elementary school students could see expansion to other schools around the state, officials from a Charleston law firm hope.

Since 2008, Jackson Kelly has worked in partnership with Piedmont Elementary School in Charleston, matching students with mentors known as "elevators." The Education Elevators Program recently earned its status as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and celebrated its fifth anniversary.

"About five years ago, Tom McJunkin came up with this idea to have mentors in Piedmont Elementary," explained Jackson Kelly associate, Erin Stankewicz. "He wanted to do something more than a read-aloud and he came up with the elevator program."

Elevators should not be confused with tutors, however. Although activities incorporate academics and elements to increase self-esteem, students have created videos, made robots and learned new languages in their weekly 30-minute sessions.

"We started out with just Jackson Kelly staff lawyers, secretaries, whoever in the firm could go on company time 30 minutes, once a week. They were assigned to students, called the elevatee."

Stankewicz said elevators saw benefits right away.

"The students really looked forward to elevators coming to see them," she said. "They started to have a great relationship with their elevators and cherished the visits. … In return, elevators felt a good sense of accomplishment and felt they were benefited by spending time with these children too."

Allison McJunkin, whose dad started the program, is the president of the elevator initiative. McJunkin explained that she formed the program into the Educational Elevators Foundation and the board has reached out to other community businesses, including banks, businesses and other law firms.

McJunkin explained that the program now has a handbook so officials can figure out ways to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

"We are looking at whether the program builds the students' confidence and competence and relationships with others," McJunkin said. "We are looking at a lot of different measures of how the program really impacts the kids and trying to figure out more than just helping kids get better grades and turn in better homework assignments. We want to help them in their future, which is the most important thing that we want kids to get from the program."

She said the program also has expanded to West Side Elementary in Charleston and they are looking to get elevators to go to that school.

"The program definitely has grown," she said.

"The ultimate hope is to create a tool kit so that other schools and businesses can strike up similar relationships. We are working with the Education Alliance to figure out the best way to do that," she added. "In the future, it can be a model for other schools in the state. There are a lot of schools and businesses that have existing relationships like Jackson Kelly and Piedmont. We are hoping to further those relationships and add that mentoring piece to it because those relationships, they strengthen ties in the community and elevate everyone involved."