Every Wednesday, Mike Restaino visits the Creative Player Foundation (CPF) masked up and ready to work one-on-one with fourth grader, Zaquan.
He’s been a mentor with the nonprofit since November 2020, providing extra academic support for remote-learning students.
“When the [COVID-19] pandemic hit, I heard of the struggles they were dealing with,” said Mike. “They said there was a fourth grader that needed help, and I said, ‘Count me in.’”
As a community relations district manager at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), Mike oversees community investments. He also helps build partnerships with organizations, like the CPF, working to address critical issues affecting the health of the Charlotte community.
At Blue Cross NC, we believe that every North Carolinian deserves to live their healthiest life – especially the young ones. That is why we invest in organizations across the state that help parents, schools and communities support early childhood development.
Remote learning during the pandemic has been an adjustment for students, parents and educators across the state. School districts are seeing a decrease in attendance. Parents are trying to balance work responsibilities and school schedules. And students are struggling to focus and keep up with the demands of virtual learning.
“The school district is very concerned about it,” Mike said. “The private schools are finding the same issues of kids falling behind. They’re all concerned about how kids are going to be able to transition through this school year virtually and then be ready to go next year. Are they going to be up to speed at the level that they need to be for the next grade level?”
So, when the CPF staff mentioned a need for volunteers, Mike felt called to be there for the nonprofit – and for Zaquan.
From math to reading to science, the pair spends two hours together weekly getting Zaquan caught up on schoolwork assignments.
Zaquan excels with numbers, naturally gravitating towards math. But it’s his reading skills that have blossomed since he began his sessions with Mike.
“At the very beginning, I could sense discomfort with him reading aloud, particularly to me,” said Mike. “So, we just started to take our time and work together on the words.”
“Now when he makes a mistake with the pronunciation of a word, there’s no sense of embarrassment, awkward feelings or hesitation,” Mike added. “He just tries to sound it out and work through the syllables; and he says it and we keep moving on.”
During their last session, Zaquan made big strides. He even asked to spend his free time reading.
“Now, that’s a big deal,” said Mike. “It was a big milestone. That’s the first time since we’ve been together that he’s volunteered to read.”
Mike advocates for students navigating this school year alone. He encourages others to consider sparing time to support them, whether it’s virtually or safely social distancing.
He believes that even the smallest investment of time can make a significant impact.
“I think whether you’re spending an hour a week or hours a week with a child helping them manage through it all, it will pay dividends,” said Mike. “If we can help these kids from falling behind and getting lost, then that helps us all.”
Ultimately, Mike hopes that by the end of the school year, Zaquan will be comfortable with staying on track with his classwork and will maintain the confidence that he’s capable of excelling above average in school.
The Community and Diversity Engagement team at Blue Cross NC works to bring our mission to life. We collaborate with organizations to support diverse communities, empowering employee volunteers and advocating for equity to make a healthier North Carolina for all.
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