Lunch Buddy Program Tries to Connect Kids to College Planning

What is the ACT U Lunch Buddy program?

ACT U Lunch Buddies is a program guided by our partnership with the Iowa City Community School District (Iowa) Foundation and other community partners standing behind the commitment to underserved populations in Iowa City. The program, which began in 2018, provides mentoring opportunities for elementary students, intermediate students (beginning in 2019) and will expand to high school students by 2020. The overarching consistency with ACT U is education, service, and community – all geared toward helping kids prepare for college and reinforcing that college is an option. The concept, which I developed, matches ACT team members with youth at several elementary schools in Iowa City. Team members volunteer about an hour and a half a week, typically over the students’ lunch hour, with a student talking or working on academics. Each ACT team member who participates must be committed to the assigned student for the full semester and complete a background check paid for by the district. Team members are encouraged to bring their lunch or dine in with the students for a school meal.

Why was this program developed?  

We felt the need to develop the program to assist students who need mentoring support and to provide another opportunity for ACT to give back to our community. It’s important to realize that some students have so many different people coming in and out their life that structure and someone they can trust and talk to is often absent – yet that support is so important to their development and success. The students are pre-selected by the staff at the schools, and is one who has strong skills in leadership, service, and a desire to achieve. Most of the students are between a 2.5- and just below a 3.0 GPA, so having mentorship and support from a Lunch Buddy can make a big difference in their success. What’s more, the ACT staff who participate are able to be connected back to their classroom roots, encouraging youth development and gives them a simple way to give back by volunteering in a meaningful way.

What do you and your mentee talk about?

Mostly, we have conversations about what I do at ACT and what the ACT test is. Sometimes we find books to read to each other, play board games, or I simply am a listening adult to whatever they have going on that day. We sometimes have lengthy discussions on our favorite PlayStation games and they provide me with key advice on how to reach the next level. Students can talk about whatever they like while we are meeting. 

What do you enjoy most about the program?

While we are still in the early stages of this effort, I like the connection to the local school and students. It keeps me up to date on how elementary school kids think and what’s important to them. I learn something new on every visit and we both look forward to meeting again the next week. It feels good when you leave knowing that you helped a child that day.   

Would you recommend others participate? If yes, why?

I’d recommend that others considering participating in Lunch Buddies (or a similar mentoring or tutoring program) because we all must get out of our comfort zones. There are students in Iowa City – and all over the country – who are in desperate need of the knowledge and support that adult mentors can provide. The students who participate in Lunch Buddies are good students often forgotten about because they are not at the low end of the academic scale or at the high end. Mentors can be the catalyst to helping them achieve what others have told them they couldn’t achieve; to help them reach their full potential.