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Boulevard Elementary School Connects with Case Western Students
June 14, 2023 --The 4th graders in Kristy Minnillo’s class at Boulevard Elementary School made some new friends this year. And they’re not who you might expect: they are students, and even employees, at Case Western Reserve University. 

Albert Wilhemly, a junior electrical engineering major at Case, reached out to Boulevard’s media ancillary Rachel Gray months ago with an idea. He wanted to connect a class of elementary school children with college students based on similar interests, hobbies or areas of study. 

The project of the University’s Local Government and Community Relations Office was designed to “further encourage reading among local youth, improve literacy skills, and expand the opportunities to experience the benefits of book ownership on a subject on which they are passionate.” 

Students first used a template to write an introductory letter that described everything from their favorite foods to what pets lived in their homes to their hobbies and what they want to be when they grow up. Mr. Wilhemly then reached out to friends, classmates, and acquaintances trying to find the perfect match for each student.

Along with a written letter back, every Case student carefully selected and mailed a book to their designated Boulevard student based on their stated interests. “It was a huge undertaking,” said Ms. Gray of Mr. Wilhemly’s efforts.

But all that work was worth it because “the kids were thrilled” according to Ms. Minnillo. “The letters were phenomenal. It was such a great project.”

The written letters back focused mostly on what the two new friends have in common, with Case students commenting on everything from “I also love ice cream” to “I also couldn’t believe you have a cat. I love my cat so much,” complete with photos. The book included with this letter, Just Grace, was chosen because “I think Grace is so relatable and funny. Grace loves cats, friends, and food – just like you and me.”

The older writers included specifics about their own career paths and the studies required to achieve them. One Boulevard student, Terrence, who hopes to become a police officer, was paired with a captain from the Case Western Reserve University Police Department. The book he chose to send was a mystery, to help Terrence think like a detective. “As you are reading, you’ll have to pay attention to the clues so you can solve the mystery, just like a detective!”

In addition to books, the letters included much praise and encouragement for the younger students. “I thought it was really admirable that you listed your family as what you love most in the entire world. … That was super cool to me and you sound like a great kid!” one letter read. 

One letter said, “I hope you are able to pursue what you’re passionate about in middle school and beyond. If you find something you really love at school, you can keep doing it for the rest of your life.”

And another: “I am rooting for you and wishing you all the best. Have fun playing sports and video games, but also make sure to exercise your brain by reading.” 

Now that the rising 5th graders have their very own books and a new older friend, hopefully they’ll keep doing just that.