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The classroom at Palolo Elementary School resounded with a happy din as eight high school students and 11 fifth-graders assembled for their final after-school mentoring session, supervised by adult staffers from YouthGrace, a local nonprofit organization.
The youngsters sat and rolled about in a wide circle on the floor, batting a ball rapidly back and forth while calling out the alphabet. As they played they joked and talked story, and wild hits produced excited screams from both the teenagers and younger kids. For an hour once a week, YouthGrace brings volunteers from a high school to mentor children, one on one, at a partner elementary school.
“We usually do some journaling with a prompt, like what dreams you have, or if you want to learn something new, what would it be — open-ended questions,” said Leilani Zbin, 18, a poised, clear-eyed student from Kaimuki Christian School. “We’re trained to mostly listen.”
Caroline Kerat, a tall 12-year-old in a yellow floral smock, stood attentively beside Zbin. Asked if they do homework together, “I help if she needs it, but she usually doesn’t and so we play,” Zbin said.
“Homework’s easy for me,” Kerat said.
For a moment, verdant Palolo Valley felt like Brigadoon: In a digital age, with schools emphasizing technical skills and in-person face time fading behind the glare of screens, here were children happily engaged in conversation, reading, writing and problemsolving, and play involving traditional books, pencils, paper, puzzles, board games and balls.
“We’ll never have a mentor bot, I’ll tell you that right now,” said Jay Jarman, YouthGrace execut