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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Fall 1995, Vol.15, No.3
P&S Students Mentor Neighborhood Children

Derek Mattimoe, student coordinator for the New York State Mentoring Program at P&S, and fourth grader Roy Rosa fill out questionnaires that will help them get to know each other better.
Imagine spending your childhood with only your imagination letting you soar beyond the boundaries of your neighborhood. That's the experience of many children who grow up in Washington Heights, unable to take advantage of opportunities that exist outside their community. But thanks to the New York State Mentoring Program, 10 fourth-grade students can count on 10 P&S students to help them realize their potential.

The New York State Mentoring Program was started in the early 1990s by New York's former first lady, Matilda Cuomo. P&S became involved in Fall 1994. Ivy Fairchild, director of public affairs at P&S, recruited 10 volunteers from Columbia's Health Sciences Division, who were paired with fourth graders at P.S. 128.

Each student/mentor pair was matched according to common interests, giving each set a foundation upon which to build a friendship. The program was designed for the pairs to stay together for one school year, with the hopes that they would stay in touch after the year ended. The mentors met with their students twice a month after school, spending about two hours together each visit. These sessions usually included some one-on-one time for the students and mentors to get to know each other

better, as well as some time for group activities or field trips.

Derek Mattimoe'97, student coordinator for the program, says the students perceived their mentors as friends rather than disciplinary figures. Since the meetings took place in the elementary school, much of the mentoring focused on tutoring. Some of the mentors asked the students' families for permission to meet outside of the scheduled meetings. Mr. Mattimoe and his fiancée took his student, Roy, ice skating last winter.

Mr. Mattimoe says both the students and the mentors learned from each other, especially in understanding cultural differences. Most of the children in the program are Catholic, so this past spring Beth Armitage, mentor in the M.D.-Ph.D. program, planned a Passover/Easter meeting during which she explained how her family celebrates Passover and the significance of the Jewish holiday and one of the elementary students shared the details of her family's Easter celebration. The group also painted Easter eggs and ate matzo in celebration of both holidays. Throughout the program, the elementary students (the majority of whom are Dominican) helped the P&S students reach a better understanding of Hispanic culture.

The number of students who wanted mentors far outnumbered the volunteers, so teachers at the Washington Heights elementary school had to choose the 10 students who ultimately participated. For the most part, students with better grades were picked, Mr. Mattimoe says, but he would like to see students in greater need be given the chance to participate.

"This is a critical time for us to develop relationships with these kids. Only after we develop a bond will we be fully able to help these kids with choosing their futures." Mr. Mattimoe plans to stay in touch with Roy and help out when it's time for him to tackle some of life's challenges, such as decisions about college and a career.

Since former governor and Mrs. Cuomo left the state capitol earlier this year, Mrs. Cuomo has continued mentoring, but her focus has shifted to homeless families. As far as the New York State Mentoring Program at P&S is concerned, Ms. Fairchild says, "We don't know what's going to happen next year."

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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