Mentor Moment: Ann DiDonato and Chris Fitzgerald

Ann DiDonato and Chris Fitzgerald, mentors

There’s a little extra love at the Walnut Street School during Power Read each Thursday. Most days you can find mom-and-son duo Ann DiDonato and Chris Fitzgerald sharing a table when they read with their students. Afterwards, the two usually have a lunch date and visit about their mentoring experiences or whatever is going on in their lives. Ann was the first to sign on as a mentor, in 2016. “One week a month I had a conflict so I needed a permanent sub and I asked my son to read with my student,” she says. “The next year he said, ‘I want my own kid.’”

Chris recalls, “At first, 80% of it was me doing a favor for my mom. I was interested in volunteering but I’m a cautious person, so it was the push I needed. Invariably, along the way, we all need a push.”

While both stress the importance of reading, it’s the relationships that stick with Chris and Ann. “Definitely, the chit chat and the mentoring is the best part,” says Chris. “The kids are excited and they’re talking about soccer games and birthday parties, and what’s going on in math class. Thirty minutes each week isn’t very long, but if you look at it over the school year, you think, wow, we read a lot of books and built a nice relationship.”

Ann remembers a kindergarten student who was so shy she hid under her desk, back to the door, with her hood over her head on the day they met. “By the end of the year she was running into the room, choosing the book, trying to read to me, and her teacher told me she’d said Power Read was her favorite part of the week,” she says. “You never know what a kid needs, and what they think of what we’re doing together.”