OUR DISTRICT:  Caring Adults for our Students, Mentors Are Changing Lives

OUR DISTRICT: Caring Adults for our Students, Mentors Are Changing Lives

“Never, never, never give up;” Winston Churchill’s words are inscribed over a classroom door at Hartford Public High School.  These words were echoed repeatedly this week by mentors to our students, giving generously of their time and attention to connect with our students, guide them, inspire them, and help them know they are appreciated and worthy.  All of the mentors recalled that they also had at least one, crucial mentor in their lives without whom they would not be where they are today.

NASA Astronaut and education leader Leland Melvin visited Hartford Public High School’s Academy of Engineering and Green Technology in Hartford on Thursday, November 3rd.   Also in attendance were 8th graders from Rawson STEAM Lighthouse School who are members of the LinkBots and Vex Robotics Team.  Mr. Melvin toured the school, spending time with the students from both schools and seeing their projects including the Nepal Wind Power Project, the lunar rover, robots, mobile apps and Vex and Lego robots.

aoegt-hosts-leland-melvin-and-rawson-8th-graders-groupHe recounted his life story, recalling the Chief Surgeon who believed in him and sent him to space, though he had endured an injury in training.  His messages to the students were clear; never give up, surround yourself with people who truly care about your progress and your welfare, always take the positive road.  He quoted Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why.”  He urged the students to find their interests and explore many paths.   To read more about Mr. Melvin’s visit, click here.

On Tuesday, November 1, 2016, the Julio Lozada Foundation Inc., a local non-profit began its initiative, “Mentoring for Success” in collaboration with Quest and Pratt and Whitney at S.A.N.D. School in the Clay Arsenal Neighborhood in Hartford, CT.   The Julio Lozada Foundation’s mission is to provide educational opportunities to students in the City of Hartford. The goal of the program is to provide networking opportunities, career guidance, and a caring adult to every student through literacy.

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S.A.N.D. School 7th graders in front of Myra Lozada (left) and Tiffany Reyes (right.)

Julio Lozada Foundation Inc. was created as a long lasting non-profit devoted to making the public aware of the significant contribution that Julio Lozada’s tragic death at the age of 12 in 1979 made to address the racial disparities in Public Safety in the City of Hartford, Connecticut. Since conception it has been the foundation’s mission to accomplish this by working collaboratively with our funding partners, local schools, and the support of the community.

S.A.N.D. School has identified the 7th grade class as the participants of this program, and their mentors will follow the students throughout high school. The students will be paired with mentors from Pratt and Whitney and both will write journal entries weekly to each other.   The notebooks that will contain the messages will trade hands via the students’ classroom teachers and City Connects Site Coordinator at S.A.N.D . School, Amy Ramirez.

lozada-students-wth-notebooksFounder and President of the Julio Lozada Foundation, and sister of its namesake, Mayra Lozada reflected on her student-mentees, “I feel that I have 22 more stepchildren that I want to see grow, improve, graduate from college, then come back and give back to our community. “  Ms. Lozada says of   her partner in the “Mentoring for Success” project whom she met at Quest, Tiffany M. Reyes, “Tiffany Reyes is a blessing.  We share the same passion. We are using this passion together to make this project grow and flourish.  We picked the 7th grade so we can keep working with them next year in their 8th grade.”

Tiffany Reyes (in photo at top of the page) is currently the Executive Assistant to James Maser, VP of Operations Program Management at Pratt and Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corp.  A former resident of the Hartford community, Tiffany is passionate about the disparities that exist and strives to build access and opportunities for Hartford youth. Outside of work Tiffany has volunteered with Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), CT Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS), and is a public speaker for many non-profit organizations in the Connecticut area attempting to raise awareness on child abuse.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Bay Path University; a Master’s in Human Resources Development from Villanova University and is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Hartford.

At the project’s kick-off, also guiding the 7th graders were Nicole Miller, the Director of Student Affairs at Goodwin College, and a student at Goodwin College majoring in manufacturing who had been a student at S.A.N.D. School.  Attendees included teachers,  Lozada Foundation board member, Pedro Zayas, STEM project partner, Dr. Sandra Inga, the Director of STEM Education at Hartford Public Schools, and Sammy Vega, the Executive Director of MegaEducation.

Ms. Reyes captivated the children with her fascinating, very personal story and her approachable personality.  Her message to them was: despite detours, setbacks, tragedy, you can remain focused on your goals and get there.  There were teachers, foster parents and mentors who helped her along the way. Inspiring the pen-pal style journal writing was Tiffany’s life-long habit of writing in her personal journal, at times the only consistent anchor and companion in her younger years.

Ms. Reyes reflects, “On a personal note this mentorship program allows me to share myself while paying it forward; it allows me to provide access to information in a pace that the student controls. 7th grade for me was a pivotal moment in my life, and writing became my outlet when at times I felt like I didn’t have a voice. The importance of giving students a voice and an opportunity to reflect is imperative, but having someone read and respond is equally important. It helps them prepare for the future; it helps provide them with someone who can support their thoughts, not their actions. The potential of this program is endless. What we have created, what we are attempting to create is huge. We are creating a sense of community, while we provide access to established professionals. We are also creating an equal playground for these students that will build long-lasting, impactful relationships that will foster growth in education, and in their personal lives.”

Meanwhile at the three academies at Hartford Public High School, Mario J. Florez, Director of School Climate and Culture at Hartford Public Schools is collaborating on a pilot of the My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentors.  They are working with school-based teams to identify mentors for our 9th grade students, and are hoping to fully implement the program upon return from the holiday break in January.

The My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentors initiative is President Obama’s program to help kids, especially in transitional grades like 6th, and 9th from becoming chronically absent.  The program matches students with mentors that will check in with them first thing in the morning to make sure they’re in school, and make phone calls home to offer support and encouragement through positive messaging when the students don’t come to school.  For example, “We really missed you in school today.  Is everything ok?  We’re here to support you so let us know how we can help and we look forward to seeing you tomorrow!”  The initiative comes straight from the White House and is partnering with the Governor’s Prevention Partnership and MENTOR to train the mentors and provide on-going technical assistance and support.

Another great way to mentor at Hartford Public Schools is via United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut.  Consider being a mentor.