For 72 employees in Baltimore, giving back is a months-long commitment every school year.
Thousands of Exelon employees, including those from Constellation, Exelon’s retail and wholesale business, are celebrating National Volunteer Week by donating their time and energy across the country. But an ongoing volunteer program at Constellation provides mentoring for middle school students in Baltimore all year long.
Through the program, in its third year, Constellation employees act as social, professional and academic role models for sixth-through-eighth-graders from the Crossroads School.
Crossroads, a public charter middle school maintained by Living Classrooms Foundation, has 162 students, and each has a mentor from the Baltimore business community. Almost half are paired with Constellation employees, and that number has risen over the past three years.
“The first year, we had 40, then 60-65, and now 72,” said Megan Sparks, the lead on new business incubation for Constellation and mentor with the Crossroads program. “We’re a significant percentage of adult mentors with the school. We even had a wait list for mentors to sign up.”
At Exelon, employees not only excel at providing reliable energy for customers, but they also partner with organizations to help their communities thrive. By mentoring these students, Constellation employees are promoting habits of success and collaboration that make Constellation and Exelon stand out.
“Most mentors have a love for just working with kids,” said Ricky Wilson, a Constellation senior structuring analyst and mentor. “We do whatever we can to make middle school easier. We’re the social, professional role models some kids don’t have outside of school.”
The mentors help Crossroads students with academics and other aspects of their lives.
Wilson had encouragement from his family to pursue college and graduate education, and he’s grateful for the education he received. He also understands that some kids in Baltimore don’t have the same support system he grew up with, so Wilson pays it forward by volunteering with local students.
“It just seems like the right thing to do,” said Wilson, who has also tutored with Huntington Learning Center and Upward Bound in the past. “I always think that if you want to make change or improvements in the world, mentoring kids is the right place to start. Income disparity, crime and other problems could be alleviated with better education. It’s good for the whole.”
In one-on-one sessions with his mentee, which are coordinated through Living Classrooms and Crossroads’ guidance counselors, Wilson doesn’t just help with math homework – he discusses his own experiences from growing up, middle school and college. One lesson outside of academics that Crossroads guidance counselors plan is teaching male students how to tie ties, and Wilson was happy to bring in neckties to show them how to fashion Windsor knots.
No piece of life experience is too small, and it informs many of the mentors’ relationships with the students.
“The biggest thing is listening,” said Rob Schlotterbeck, Constellation senior business analyst and mentor. “How are the students’ family lives? How are things outside of school going? A big thing is letting the conversation evolve, taking the next step and getting communication to flow from them.”
Schlotterbeck and his mentee talk a good deal about the student’s goals of developing video games as a career. Although they haven’t played each other in “NBA 2K” yet, Schlotterbeck reinforces the importance of good grades and setting oneself up for college, especially on days when all Constellation members don apparel from their alma maters – Schlotterbeck usually wears a University of Baltimore T-shirt.
Before college, though, comes the next step: high school. Baltimore middle school students must apply for admission into high school, something Tim Barry, Constellation senior analyst, has helped his eighth-grade mentee do.
When they met last year, Barry didn’t know what to expect mentoring a 12-year-old. But they broke the ice talking about sports and exchanged phone numbers by the second one-on-one session. Barry said that when they text about life issues, he acts as a sounding board for his student.
In a few weeks, Barry will watch his mentee cross the stage at the Crossroads graduation ceremony.
“This program overall is a great one because we don’t know what kind of background these kids come from,” Barry said. “It’s great to get that perspective, to listen and get to know somebody, to be there for whatever the students need. It’s helpful for us mentors, and the program is hopefully a great resource for the kids, too.”
Students learn real-life energy lessons by visiting Constellation.
Volunteering with kids is one aspect of what Exelon and Constellation can accomplish in a program like this one, and they take education one step further.
At the end of each school year, Constellation invites Crossroads sixth-graders, who are new to the mentoring program, to its campus to speak with senior executives, Information Technology personnel and engineers to learn about emerging technologies, equipment such as drones and oculus glasses, and other inner workings of an energy company.
“Constellation has embraced the program as much as the mentors have,” Sparks said.
Schlotterbeck remembers when the company hosted Crossroads students last year: They were wide-eyed and excited about the multiple monitors at each desk and venture technology during the tour.
“The kids were saying: ‘We want to work here someday! This place is awesome!’” Schlotterbeck said.