Lisa Van Vleck, CSV’s Director of Corporate Programs, remembers it well. Kenny Neal (former teacher and assistant principal) and Lisa were meeting with Kathleen Granchelli of Draper Laboratory, when Kenny hatched the idea of an e-mail communication partnership. It would emphasize English Language Arts through correspondence between 8th graders and employees of local Cambridge companies. “Let’s call it KeyPals,” she recalls him saying. It wasn’t long before Kathleen Granchelli had recruited MIT and Lotus/IBM to join the KeyPals team, and Kenny had lined up MIT’s Paul Parravano to provide the university’s server for the novel mentoring program.
Once powered up, students had to line up to use the one computer in Kenny’s classroom to communicate with their KeyPal mentors. Soon after, Cathleen Finn from IBM generously arranged the donation of computers from her company, allowing teacher Kathy Walsh-Malone to set up the first school-based PC lab in the city. Over time, the program morphed to the 6th grade where, among other things, students got to write to and publish biographies of their KeyPal mentors.
Fast forward to 2014! The KeyPals program now serves all 5th graders at the Kennedy-Longfellow (K/Lo) School in East Cambridge. Kenny Neal has retired (his legacy is appreciated by CSV each spring when honoring an outstanding CPSD teacher with a Kenneth S. Neal Award), but Kathy Walsh-Malone has remained its stalwart supporter and organizer! KeyPals still involves dozens of employees from Draper, MIT, and IBM each year, and students continue to make two on-site visits to their KeyPals’ workplace. At IBM, KeyPals fits into the company’s broader International Corporate Citizenship initiative called Mentorplace. And, students are now taking advantage of one-to-one iPad and laptop access made available by a Lesley University technology integration grant. It allows them to share their work with their KeyPals. No more computer lab!
The literacy concentration of KeyPals continues with a dual focus: increasing reading comprehension through weekly sharing of writing about non-fiction informational texts; and embedding technology into a variety of learning experiences. Recently 5th graders shared the iPad design processes used to create kinetic sculptures that were showcased at their final face-to-face meeting of the school year – the annual lunch event held at MIT.
Congratulations to Draper, IBM and MIT for two decades of invaluable service and commitment to the middle school students of Cambridge! KeyPals has been a unique and innovative mentoring program that has kept students in the forefront of writing, science and career awareness.