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Help Yourself Academy Pushes Elementary Students to Succeed

November 23, 2010

by Christine Kenyi

Mentor Lena SanFilipo with Pine Hills Elementary student. (Christine Kenyi)

The Help Yourself Academy fostered at The College of Saint Rose encourages a group of children in grades three to six from the Pine Hills Elementary School to build their aspirations for a higher education.

The program partners a group of mentors and teachers with 85 children from the elementary school who meet two days a week throughout the academic year. The program at Saint Rose is part of a nationwide initiative that was started in 1988. The Help Yourself Foundation’s mission is “to change the lives of disadvantaged grade school children through the creation of after-school academies on college campuses.”

Help Yourself Academy’s main goal is to use innovative and creative methods of instruction in science and math to foster the potential in these children.

“We hope to expose the students at Pine Hills to the academic community within their backyard. It’s believed that affiliation to Saint Rose at such a young age may inspire many of these students to pursue higher education in the future based on their positive experiences,” said Maribel Morton, a fourth grade lead teacher for the program.

Meeting on the Saint Rose campus also allows the children to have access to the multiple resources available on the campus including computer and science labs.

Another key element the program uses is a one-on-one highly individualized approach to learning. The children are paired with a college mentor and often times return every year keeping the same mentor throughout their experience. This allows the mentor to assess each student’s strengths and weaknesses and address them.

“The part that I find most rewarding, and I think the kids enjoy it too is the connecting with older students from many different walks of life that they can relate to and the mentors relate to the kids. It’s really fun to see them intellectually rubbing off on each other,” said John Forner, a graduate student and teacher’s assistant for Help Yourself Academy.

The Pine Hills Elementary School has a higher population of ethnically diverse groups than most other schools in the state. According to the New York State Department of Education figures, of the 378 students that attend, 66% are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program compared to the 44% state average. This large population of economically disadvantaged students is precisely who the academy targets.

“For the mentors, building a relationship with a younger child is really important. Secondly many of the mentors have never worked with inner city students before, and doing so is a great educational opportunity,” said Marion Slater, program director.

The academy also helps students gain valuable experience. The lead teachers are graduate assistants and many of the mentors are volunteers who are pursuing an education degree at the college.

“I have had so many positive experiences from my time through the program…it has prepared me for my future in education showing me the different dynamics of students and the challenges I might have to face,” said Shona Rowland a mentor and education major at Saint Rose.

Students’ school report grades and standardized test scores in science and math often improve within two years of their participation with the program. Many parents are also noticing the changes in their children after involvement with the program. Lake’Sha Bowen, the mother of Chyim Bowen a student in the sixth grade expressed her gratitude to the program and the positive way it encourages her son to improve.

“I think it’s very beneficial because it’s helping him to excel in what he likes to do,” said Bowen. “It always challenges him, and I’m pretty sure it’s also challenging for the other students as well. He comes home talking about it, he’s always excited when he leaves from here.”

The program meets through December 9 on the Saint Rose campus and will resume in the spring semester on January 24.  -30-


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