Laptops help schoolchildren learn and stay connected in midst of COVID-19

UC medical students use mentorship to make a difference

First-year medical student Nathan Lawera has used FaceTime and phone calls to check in regularly with Romendo Sims, a second-grader at Rockdale Academy Elementary School in Cincinnati.

Social distancing may be essential for our health, but it doesn’t stop University of Cincinnati medical students like Lawera from finding ways to stay connected with the youths they have befriended. He is part of UC Med Mentors, a volunteer mentorship program in the College of Medicine that connects more than 200 medical students with more than 100 school-age children. Lawera is co-president of the organization with fellow medical student Maura Kopchak.

The group works closely with the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC) to train mentors and link them to Cincinnati Public School children for mentorship. On Friday, April 17, UC Med Mentors gave away 20 laptops to a group of school children in Kresge Circle, adjacent to the UC College of Medicine.  It was a gray rainy day but that didn’t dampen the spirits of youths and their parents getting the laptops.

Dr. Charles Cavallo, president of the advisory board for UC Med Mentors, sat beneath a mammoth umbrella with a table of covered laptops as families came to claim them. The presentation of laptops replaced the special ceremony UC Med Mentors typically held annually to celebrate the gifts.

Instead, parents and youth hopped out of their vehicles, greeted Dr. Cavallo while maintaining the 6-foot-social distancing, signed paperwork and then left. Masks and hand sanitizer was available as needed.

Medical students Nathan Lawera and Emilie Buisson are shown with second-grader  Romendo Sims.

Medical students Nathan Lawera and Emilie Buisson are shown with second-grader Romendo Sims. Photo/Nathan Lawera

The generous gift of laptops for these schoolchildren is the result of $10,000 in funding from the Clare Family Foundation and the medical staff at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, says Dr. Charles Cavallo, president of the advisory board for UC Med Mentors and a volunteer assistant professor in the UC Department of Pediatrics.

“We recognize the need with a greater emphasis on distance learning in the midst of COVID-19,” says Cavallo. “Kids are at a disadvantage if they don’t have laptops. The computers come with Microsoft programing packages installed.”

UC Med Mentors was founded in 2001 by Wan Lim, associate professor emeritus of medical education. Youths in the program come from various schools including several near the UC campus, such as North Avondale Montessori School, Clifton Fairview German School, South Avondale School and Rockdale Academy. The mentoring effort at UC targets students in grades three through six, though some students stay with Med Mentors for longer periods.

Dr. Keith Stringer, faculty advisor for the organization, says Med Mentors offers medical students a way to interact with the community and offers a great opportunity firsthand to see the realities for some of their future patients.

“I am a pediatric pathologist, and we are in the business of finding causes for disease,” said Stringer, an assistant professor in the UC College of Medicine’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s pathologist. “It really has been recognized more and more in recent years that to understand the mechanisms of disease you have to understand the social constructs and determinants. In so many cases it is the social determinants of health that are unfortunately the cause of many of the ailments we see in patients.”

Cavallo said that children in Med Mentors show improvements in school attendance and achievement.

Med Mentors has focused on preparing students for academic success, but mentors also expose students to cultural and extracurricular activities through visits to the museum, the Cincinnati Zoo, arts functions, field trips, sports functions and just plain fun.

For Lawera his time with Romendo offers a welcomed break from the rigors of medical school. He also has a co-mentor, Emilie Buisson, a fellow medical student.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the mentors and their young students would see each other regularly. “We went to his school three or five times and it really turned out well,” said Lawera. “We got a chance to meet his friends and talk with his teachers. We took him out to dinner a couple of times and we have baked cookies.”

Featured image at top: Demarco Ervin and Shamina Latimer bring JaiCeon Ervin and Jeremiah Hughes, to pick up laptops from UC Med Mentors. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

Teressika Davis and Tristyn Meadows are led by Dr. Charles Cavallo to pick up laptops given by UC Med Mentors.

Teressika Davis and Tristyn Meadows are led by Dr. Charles Cavallo to pick up laptops given by UC Med Mentors. Photo by Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand.

Impact Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is leading public urban universities into a new era of innovation and impact. Our faculty, staff and students are saving lives, changing outcomes and bending the future in our city's direction. Next Lives Here.

Read more #UCtheGood stories, or take a UC virtual visit and begin picturing yourself at an institution that inspires incredible stories.