New Britain educators create mentoring program pairing students with adult mentors to encourage engagement, expand opportunities

Published on Tuesday, 5 January 2021 15:39
Written by Catherine Shen


NEW BRITAIN – To help inspire students during erratic times, New Britain educators created a mentoring program designed to pair students with adult mentors to encourage engagement and expand opportunities.

“The basic idea is to show students that they’re all gifted and talented in different ways. But it takes a lot of nurturing to bring that out and that’s what we hope to do,” said Geno Ayala, New Britain High School counselor and coordinator of the Student Assistance Center for Peace & Justice.

Along with Jason Miramant, principal of Brookeside School, they created the ProdiGy! Program to help disengaged NBHS students become reengaged, especially because of the ongoing pandemic. They hope to expand the program to middle schoolers in the near future.

Twice a week, students meet virtually or in-person while participating in various activities and lessons with staff, community organizations, administrators and others. The group started meeting right before Thanksgiving break and so far, the responses has been positive.

There are currently 13 students involved and Ayala hopes to attract more students once schools return to the hybrid model on Jan. 19. All in-person activities require facemasks, adhere to social distancing rules, and are in large spaces, such as the high school’s gym and lecture hall to accommodate the small group.

“There are a lot of concerns that are not just covid-19 related, but a lot of students struggled with engagement and attendance prior to the pandemic,” he said. “Now with everything being that much more challenging, those who were already struggling are struggling more. But we’re communicating with them personally, so we hope to lower those numbers as the program becomes bigger.”

Some of the activities include self-care, practicing mindfulness, peer mediation and discussions about mental health. Local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of New Britain, Opportunities Industrialization Center of New Britain and Pathways/Senderos Center are all sites that students visit to participate in various events.

“These are things that we’re already doing as a district, but by expanding it into a program, we hope to have a broader reach to students and families,” said Miramant, who has worked in the district for 20 years. “There’s been so much back and forth between doing the hybrid model, remote learning and in-person learning, we’ve lost some students through it all and we have to think about how to bring them back.”

Students are doing everything they can to attend, including riding the city bus, biking to school and even using ride-sharing services, according to the district. Through their attendance, interaction and mentoring, numerous students in the program have seen their grades rise in the past month. This, in turn, has energized them to become more engaged in their classwork and studies.

“The program gives that personal connection that remote learning can’t give,” Miramant said. “There’s a basic human need to want to be valued and recognized. There’s no greater connection than being able to work with these students directly and to develop that trust amid the fear of covid-19. There is so much passion from people in the district who want to help and support the students and the program. That’s what really makes this work.”

Another idea behind the program is to expose opportunities and experiences that the students would not have known, such as summer youth employment, different career ideas and more.

“Who knows how covid-19 is going to impact our education system? We have to shift the way we do things, otherwise students will get lost during all the uncertainty,” Ayala said. “By creating these opportunities, they may find something that they’re interested and be more engaged.”

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Posted in New Britain Herald, New Britain on Tuesday, 5 January 2021 15:39. Updated: Tuesday, 5 January 2021 15:42.