Last year, we could only see our classmates’ faces in little Zoom boxes. All of the events that usually bring people together, like Club Fair and Spring Weekend, were canceled. Many of our friends did not even come to campus. At a moment when human interactions were so restricted, I was grateful for a chance to experience myself and others as social beings.
The new Youth Engagement Program builds unity and understanding between two communities: Fordham Rose Hill Honors Program, and Jonas Bronck Academy, the middle school across the street from our campus. Each Fordham student is paired with a JBA student in a one-on-one mentoring relationship. As preparation for the program, Fordham students met with JBA staff to complete training sessions on the theory and practice of mentoring. Some of the main lessons were that the mentors should encourage goal-setting, a healthy work/life balance, and personal and civic responsibility.
Once the weekly meetings began, things became more free-form, with each mentor-mentee pair charting their own path. Whether it was through casual chatting or helping with homework, talking about mental health, or playing video games, the mentors helped the mentees achieve their goals and maintain their social and emotional wellbeing. That is not to say that the mentors did not learn and grow from the meetings, as well. At the end of the semester, when all of the program participants came together, mentors and mentees alike expressed the same sentiments. “It’s so nice to have somebody to talk to, and somebody to listen to.” “It’s really fun to share my interests with my mentor/mentee.” “I am learning so much from the weekly meetings.”
I truly appreciate the trust and rapport that my mentee and I built together, and I hope that she feels the same way. I have high hopes that this program will keep thriving, and expanding our social lives even after we say goodbye to Zoom!
I first discovered South Bronx United (SBU) as a first-year student helping put on a resume workshop through Fordham’s College Access program. I fell in love with the SBU students, staff, and mission pretty much instantly. As a first-year student, I had some vague idea that I might like to work in education policy someday, but I knew for sure that I was passionate about equitable education, especially in the Bronx community we’re so lucky to live in at Rose Hill. Working with SBU seemed like a no-brainer for me: I love kids, am passionate about equitable access to educational resources, and enjoy teaching. So I emailed SBU’s Education Director, went through the internship hiring process, and started working with SBU in an official capacity during the fall semester of my sophomore year.
For context, South Bronx United is a local non-profit organization that uses soccer as an outreach tool for students in the Bronx. Two days each week, middle and high school students play on competitive club soccer teams; for another two days each week, they attend after-school tutoring sessions where they get homework help, extracurricular enrichment for math and language arts, and SAT preparation. I’m fairly terrible at soccer, so I work on the academic programming side of SBU. I was an Education Intern my sophomore year and a Room Lead and volunteer tutor this year, my junior year.
My time at SBU has been one of my favorite parts of my time at Fordham — from the serious moments, like when a student confided her troubles with some of her teammates to me, to the funny ones, like when a student put a reminder to do his homework into his phone’s calendar under the name “Megan’s head is going to explode if you don’t do your work.” Even through the start of the pandemic last spring, with the transition to online learning, SBU has been a constant in my life. My friends and family know the names of the students I’m closest to, and I’ve even seen some of my students on Fordham Road and the subway.
My experience with SBU has aligned beautifully with my Honors experience – learning to work collaboratively with Honors students has made me a better tutor, and building relationships with other Honors students and professors in an academic setting has made me a better mentor. I like to joke that I’m going to be involved with SBU until I die, but I sincerely think that’s the truth – they’re my family now too, just as much as Honors is.
Earlier this month, Honors students and Jonas Bronck Academy scholars met for the inaugural meeting of the Youth Engagement Program (YEP), a mentorship initiative between the Rose Hill Honors Program and the Jonas Bronck Academy (JBA), a public middle school near Rose Hill. Initially proposed by Brenda Gonzalez, principal of JBA, and Dr. Keller, director of the Rose Hill Honors Program, YEP was turned into reality with the efforts of JBA administrators and five Honors students. YEP is the first of its kind: a holistic mentorship program designed to connect Honors mentors with JBA scholars to help the middle school students plan and achieve their goals, both academic and personal.
At the inaugural meeting of YEP, many of our Honors mentors described a similar inspiration for their involvement: to engage with the Fordham neighborhood, fully embodying our mission as a Community of Scholars for Justice. The Honors mentors representing Fordham this year are Nick Urbin (‘23), Danielle D’Alonzo (‘22), Jack Amrol (‘24), Maniza Khondker (‘24), and me, Cristina Scofield (‘24).
For many of us, the first meeting with our mentees served as a goal-setting workshop. We encouraged them to identify their goals and then outlined plans to achieve them. In addition to academic goals, our scholars outlined goals in other areas, such as a college or career dream or another area they’re passionate about. In this first session, I was truly inspired by my mentee’s ambition and determination. While we mentors have experience and advice to share, we have just as much to learn from our mentees! I, just like my fellow mentors, cannot wait to see how far they come during the eight weeks of this spring’s YEP program.
While we are restricted to virtual meetings for the time being, hope is not lost on an eventual in-person reunion of the JBA and Fordham Honors communities. We are looking forward to future sessions of YEP, when we hope to expand the program to welcome more mentor-mentee partnerships!