In an attempt to personalize the student experience at Stuyvesant, the guidance department has launched Students and Teachers Together (STT), a new mentoring program targeted at the freshman and sophomore populations.
The program was entirely developed by an “inquiry team” headed by Principal Stanley Teitel and a group of guidance counselors. STT paired one of the twenty-seven teachers who volunteered to participate in the program with “a student who [...] would benefit from having an adult mentor in the building,” Guidance Counselor Ronnie Ann Parnes said. Guidance counselors nominated the students, and although acceptance was completely optional, most nominated students said yes. Participating students’ names were not released.
The mentors’ function is somewhat akin to that of the guidance counselors, but with two main differences: mentors are only paired with one student each, as of yet, and their position as teachers allows them insight into learning issues that guidance counselors might not have. There is no set meeting time for mentors and their students, but ideally the pair would meet once a week. While identifying learning issues and making sure the students had access to necessary resources were two of the main goals of the program, STT is also meant to help the students build a small support group within the larger community of the school.
“What I love about it is that it’s an opportunity to make a school of 3300 students more personal,” Parnes said. “Whenever you read about kids who are disaffected, it’s often because they don’t feel connected to fellow students and teachers [...] It’s all about that personal connection.”
There have been several initiatives over the years, like the Accelerated Studies (AS) program, with the goal of helping struggling students. But Teitel, questioning the success of the AS program, phased it out in favor of STT. Guidance hopes to expand the STT program if it proves to be successful.
“The idea itself [for STT] came from me—only because I was unhappy with what we had been doing in the past. I didn’t think we were being successful… This is totally different from what we’ve done in the past,” Teitel said. “I said, look, [the program]’s a little more expensive, but it’s worth a try.”
The program largely entails check-ins each week, and sometimes multiple times a week, as in the case of mathematics teacher Topher Brown- Mykolyk, one of the mentors. “He comes whenever he feels like it, which is generally three times a week, [or] three to five times a week, and we talk about school as little or as much as we need to,” Brown said of his student. Brown was drawn to the program because he felt that a select few of his students showed potential, but were not realizing it as much as they could, and he felt the program could help these kinds of students succeed.
STT is still in its pilot stage— it has only been going on for six weeks. But the inquiry team has high hopes that the program will positively affect students by forming personal relationships with teachers.
Teitel, however, has a few reservations. “In some cases, the program’s working very well; in other cases, not as well. What it really comes down to is the kinds of help the individual student needs,” he said. “Going forward, we’re going to have to be much more specific about the kinds of help we can provide with this particular program.” If the program expands, he hopes to see more care taken when pairing up students and teachers with a free period in common.
Chemistry teacher Michael Orlando, a mentor and member of the inquiry team, thinks that the program is far from a “one size fits all” concept, he said. “There are some kids who don’t want it, and that happens. But the people who would benefit are the people who are on board with the fact that someone might know more than you do… There are some kids who are not ready for that yet,” he said.
“The original idea was to help students who are struggling to make the transition from middle school to high school,” Teitel said. “We want to see if we can make that transition a little easier.”
“Our idea was to give underclassmen an advocate, a single adult advocate, to do all the things that an adult would do in a school setting. So, check on homework, tutor where it’s applicable and where it’s possible,” Orlando said. “The mentoring itself, I think, is a positive program that, for the right kids, will be a really valuable addition. So it was worth doing.”