Hopkins Bigs mentor younger students during Distance Learning

Young student poses with her computer screen with her Hopkins Big mentor on the screen.

Education has been fully-transformed in a matter of weeks leaving Hopkins and other school districts across the country turning to distance learning. It hasn’t been easy for educators and families to navigate this new system during the world-wide pandemic, but one group in Hopkins has made it their mission to make things just a little bit easier. 

The Hopkins Big Program is a group of Hopkins High School alumni who are offering tutoring sessions to students in the Hopkins Public Schools district. The program continues to grow, but the first week of distance learning resulted in 15 alumni serving a total of 70 students in Kindergarten through ninth grade.

“We wanted to set up connections so that kids could maintain some connection to school and connect with older kids,” said Jessica Melnik, a 2019 Hopkins High School graduate who is currently studying political science at the University of Madison. 

Melnik and other alumni found themselves back in the Hopkins community due to the pandemic which is when she also saw a need for young students who were forced to give up their normal school routine. After asking around, it was easy to put together a group for the Hopkins Big program because many alumni shared the same passion — giving back to the Hopkins community.

“For parents, it can be kind of daunting to be their student’s only source of help and the students could get frustrated too and not necessarily want their parents help, so I think that’s a place where we can really help,” said Mary O’Neil, a Hopkins High School alumni and Hopkins Big mentor.

O’Neil is currently studying business at Northeastern University in Boston. Before starting to work with students as a Hopkins Big, O’Neil was a little nervous about how she would be able to keep students engaged, but that has been a non-issue. One student shares a love of hockey, and another student is so excited to work on homework with O’Neil that she shoos her mother out of the room before each session.

Tully Schenkelberg signed her Glen Lake fourth grader up for the program as soon as she heard about the program. 

“I thought it would be an amazing opportunity for Hazel during this crazy time to have another ‘adult’ to lean on and learn from,” she said.

Hazel looks forward to her sessions with her Hopkins Big, Mary O’Neil. They work on math, Spanish, art and science experiments together via video chat. The pair have created a strong connection; they have even become pen pals — writing letters “snail mail style.”

“Thank you to all of these (alumni) for taking the time to make a positive change. It is making more of a difference with these little kids and for us parents then you could even know,” Schenkelberg said.