At-risk teens are mentors for younger students

By Frances Taylor - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Apr. 8, 2011
Students and teachers join in play with a parachute at Hockanmum Elementary school, where at-risk youth mentor younger students. Photos by Frances Taylor.
Students and teachers join in play with a parachute at Hockanmum Elementary school, where at-risk youth mentor younger students. Photos by Frances Taylor.

Since the beginning of the school year, a group of students at Stevens Alternative High School have been mentors to at-risk youngsters at Hockanum and Silver Lane Elementary Schools. What makes this program different, however, is that Stevens students have often been considered to be at-risk themselves.

Betsy Valentin, a senior, said she has become someone to look up to for the children she has mentored through the program. “Some of them are having a hard time academically, and they need someone like us speaking to them about life, talking to them about what's right and what’s wrong. It means something to them.''

The program known as Adventures in Learning is in its second year and focuses on peer counseling for Stevens students. The students are selected for their leadership skills, said Joe Riley, a member of the Life Staff at Stevens. Riley recalled a time when Valentin was not always a positive role model. “She had good leadership skills, but she was not always using those skills in a postive way. Once she learned how to do that, she has made a complete turnaround, and she is now on a much different road.''

Valentin said the program has made a difference for her, too. “I have a job now, and I got it because of my experience with the program. They felt I would be able to work with different kinds of people.''

Khaley Harrison, a Stevens junior, said her participation in the program has given her a different perspective. “I really like the program. When I'm there, I'm in charge of the class. It made me realize how much I enjoy that, and I found out that I want to be a teacher.''

David Bocchichio, a teacher at Stevens, said the program has helped the teens learn patience, and they help the younger children deal with their feelings. “It wasn't that long ago that these [high school] kids were just like them, and the younger kids know that. That's what makes this so effective.''

The program is in its final days for the school year, and no one is looking forward to that. “They have developed a bond with each other, and that has meant a lot to all of them.''

But there are still a few days left to work and play together. Collin Reynolds is working with Jonathan Khan on some math homework. “He checks my homework for me,'' Jonathan said.

“He's really quite good in math, he just wants someone to work on it with him, '' Reynolds said. “I've learned a lot about myself from this program. We've learned to work with different people, and in them I see a lot of myself when I was younger.''

 

 

 


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