After Jesse Gildesgame ’13 sent an online message to a budding middle school writer, praising her poem about the chill of a December night, she replied back: “I used to be ashamed of my writing and always thought it was terrible but having someone tell me how good it is really means a lot to me!”
That exchange is one of many that regularly transpire between some Bowdoin students and the local middle schoolers they mentor through the Internet. Gildesgame, along with Chelsea Youn ’14, lead the campus group Blogging Buddies, which consists of about 20 Bowdoin students who have committed to reading the creative writing of middle school students. All the submissions and responses are posted on a wiki site.
Each Bowdoin student works with three younger students who have signed up to participate in Blogging Buddies. The middle school teachers come up with the writing assignments, typically poetry and short stories, and the young students work on them in their free time.
And, he noted, blogging is a convenient way to volunteer. “You don’t have to drive one hour there and back; you just log in to a computer and begin volunteering right away. It’s perfect for a busy schedule,” he said.
After working with the children for months, the Bowdoin students finally have a chance to meet them at the end of the year at the annual Bridge to Kids Day, organized by the McKeen Center. On this day, all the young people Bowdoin students mentor throughout the year come to campus. Blogging Buddies is just one of many student-run mentoring groups that make up the Bowdoin Volunteer Corps.
Youn has been volunteering with Blogging Buddies since her first year at Bowdoin. She says her comments typically run to five or six sentences (“They’re often longer than the poems!” Gildesgame points out). “We tell them what they’re doing well and what we like, and how they they can improve,” Youn said.
Gildesgame added, “We’re not there to comment on grammar or spelling.” Gildesgame, a philosophy major, says he “dabbles” in poetry writing. Youn is a psychology major.
“We focus on the overall style of writing,” Youn continued. And over time, under the direction of their college mentors, the students’ writing gets stronger. “There are some of them that respond well to our suggestions. A lot do want to improve their writing, and do revisions.”