“Steppingstone’s first program in Boston, The Steppingstone Academy, prepares students — called Scholars — to gain admission to competitive independent and public exam schools in the sixth, seventh, and ninth grades and provides ongoing support services through high school to ensure that Scholars ultimately graduate from four-year colleges,” says Kelly Glew, president and COO of the Steppingstone Foundation. “Last year, Steppingstone launched the College Success Academy, which is based in two Boston public K-8 schools and provides rigorous after-school and summer academic programming to Scholars in grades five through eight.” And that’s not the only new development, Glew explains. “Steppingstone also brings college-access programs together through its recent initiative, the National Partnership for Educational Access, which has over 200 member programs collectively serving over 100,000 students across the country.”
“Steppingstone’s SMASH (Saturday Mentoring and Study Hall) program is a great way to get involved,” says Kelly Glew, president and COO of the Steppingstone Foundation. “Steppingstone Scholars who need extra academic help meet with Volunteer Mentors for two hours of homework help on Saturday mornings. The program is designed to accommodate varying levels of commitment: volunteers who can only meet once a month or so are welcome to help with Study Hall, where they might work with a group of Scholars, while those volunteers interested in a deeper commitment can be paired up with a Scholar for the school year.” For more information, contact Steadman Graves at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to help on the fundraising side? Consider joining the host committee for Steppingstone’s annual Crystal Ball, a black-tie benefit at the Four Seasons. For more details, contact Alison Levy at email@example.com.
“I think it’s important to get experience within your organization beyond your job description,” says Kelly Glew, president and COO of the Steppingstone Foundation. “I was fortunate to have started working at Steppingstone when it was pretty small, so I had the opportunity to get involved in different aspects of the program — in fact, I was a Mentor and ran SMASH for several years, even though my official position was in fundraising. In bigger organizations, it’s sometimes hard to get that exposure. When I worked in the development office of a school, I was pretty cut off from the students, so I volunteered to help out with the school newspaper. Not only do you get in front of a lot of different people by venturing outside your department, you learn a great deal.”
“Because our mentoring program has an academic focus, one of the most effective things a Mentor can do is to help the Scholar develop good study habits, which is sometimes more important than being an expert in the academic subject,” says Kelly Glew, president and COO of the Steppingstone Foundation. “One of my favorite stories is about a Mentor working with a Scholar who was struggling with Latin, a subject the Mentor had never studied in school. But she got a copy of the textbook, made a bunch of flashcards, and tried to stay a chapter ahead of him every week, and that was all it took.” Think you’d make a good mentor? Glew recommends checking out MassMentoring.org, an umbrella organization for mentoring programs across the state.
“I love visiting other programs because there is so much we can learn from each other,” says Kelly Glew, president and COO of the Steppingstone Foundation. “Every month, our national partnership brings together Boston-area programs to share best practices and explore ways to collaborate. I’ve recently visited the TEEP program in Copley Square and the Epiphany School — both are making an amazing impact on Boston students.”
“There is so much research about how best to engage students academically,” says Kelly Glew, president and COO of the Steppingstone Foundation. “We’ve been at this for over 20 years, and I think we’ve learned a lot about how to get students excited about learning. One thing that sets Steppingstone programs apart is our belief in the importance of high expectations. We set the bar high with clear and worthwhile goals, and year after year, the Scholars work hard to reach them. Another thing we do well is to create a culture where Scholars feel safe — not just physically safe, but safe to tap into their ‘inner nerd’! They love being in an environment where it’s cool to be smart.”
A Dream, Fulfilled
It could be argued that part of the key to success is recognizing opportunity when you see it. Kelly Glew had to do a double take -- her opportunity came courtesy of an unlikely character. He had an impeccable academic pedigree (Yale! Harvard! Oxford!), but he also sported a mustard suit every day, drove an old cop car, and stashed a fake badge in his wallet to score free parking. (We think the statute of limitations has passed on this one.) But hey, the universe works in mysterious ways.
His name was Michael Danziger, and he and his partner, John Simon, were in the beginning stages of launching the Steppingstone Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping urban school kids get into and graduate from first-class independent schools and public exam schools -- aiming for a path toward college and a promising future. Kelly met Michael through a friend who thought she might be interested in the new effort. Kelly was a rising star in the development office at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, and Steppingstone seemed right up her alley. It was, and so was Michael, whose mash-up of charisma, smarts, eccentricity, and passion for education left quite an impression on Kelly. But Kelly was about to set off to London to earn her master's in English literature at University College, a big step toward her lifelong goal of working in the publishing industry.
And yet, right before she boarded the plane, she found herself asking Michael to keep her in mind for any job opportunities. Maybe it was all that mandatory volunteering at hospitals and food drives Kelly had done at her all-girls Catholic school back in San Jose, California. Maybe not. Whatever the reason, she felt a profound connection to Michael and John’s goal: enabling inner-city kids without means to become young adults with the means to thrive. Twelve months later, Kelly landed a job, not at one of New York City's star-studded publishing houses, but at a teeny downtown Boston nonprofit start-up called the Steppingstone Foundation.
Now the president and chief operating officer, Kelly has helped raise record funds, expanded the organization into Philadelphia and Hartford, Connecticut, and managed mentoring programs. Best of all, she's witnessed 1,500 scholars graduate from the Steppingstone Academy. She's seen fifth graders who barely knew how to spell their names go on to become class presidents and captains of the football team, win Latin awards, start school newspapers, and speak at commencements. She's watched those same students graduate from law school and medical school and start their own businesses. She's proud of these kids, proud that they broke new ground in their families and made a deliberate decision to excel. And she's proud of her zany boss, who created a program that works. We hope she's proud of herself, who -- just like her scholars, had the guts to embrace an opportunity, life-changing and changing lives.