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Alumni propose mentorship program for Elmont Memorial High School

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Elmont Memorial High School alumni are planning to start a mentorship program for current students.
Elmont Memorial High School alumni are planning to start a mentorship program for current students.
Christina Daly/Herald

Ever since a group of Elmont Memorial High School alumni founded the Elmont Alumni Growing Leaders through Education and Service, or EAGLES, network in 2016, they wanted to establish a mentorship program at the high school and give back to the students of their alma mater. They have since held annual career days for students in the Global Links Club, and provided the students with the resources they need to succeed, while at the same time connecting alumni of the Sewanhaka Central High School District.

But now that students are attending classes both in person and remotely, the alumni decided it was time to finally start the mentorship program they had originally envisioned at the high school.  They have proposed the program to the Sewanhaka Central High School District, and are still awaiting approval from the school board. But Karl Valere, founder of the EAGLES network , said the group has been working closely with the Sewanhaka Central High School District and Principal Kevin Dougherty, and is optimistic about the program.

“It’s just a really bizarre time to be a student,” Valere said, with new protocols in place at the high school to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, and a rise in protests against police brutality.

Elmont was one of the hardest-hit communities during the coronavirus pandemic, Nassau County Health Department data shows, and is nearly 50 percent Black, according to the census.

At the high school, students can now only walk one way in each hallway, and the staircases are designated as “up” or “down.” Students are also dismissed on a staggered schedule to reduce hallway traffic, and only half of the high school’s student body is allowed to attend school in person each day, while the other half learns remotely.

Additionally, students cannot stop at their lockers, and lunches are socially distanced. Any student who becomes ill during the day would be brought to an isolation room, and any staff members who are infected with Covid-19 must provide the district with a negative test result, after 14 days of quarantine, before returning to school.

“Everyone is asking adults how they feel with these changes,” Tamar Paoli-Bailey, who is in charge of community action for the EAGLES. “We felt like this would be the best time to start.”

Mentorship programs have proven effective in improving a child’s social and emotional well-being. A 2013 study by Sarah E. O. Schwartz, Sarah R. Lowe and Jean E. Rhodes, published on the National Institutes of Health website, showed that close, non-familial relationships can play an important role in the development of a child’s self-esteem. According to longitudinal research on mentoring relationships, adolescents with non-parent adult role models in their lives tend to report greater psychological satisfaction. It concluded that by connecting youth with stable and supportive relationships, these mentoring programs could help students develop self-esteem and confidence in their abilities.

The Elmont program, moreover, will allow students to “hear from people who walked the same halls and sat in the same seats as they did, and made it to the other side,” Paoli-Bailey said. “As for the alumni, it’s always good to give back to where you came from — it’s just replenishing the well which you drank from.”

The program would start with 20 students and mentors, each from a variety of backgrounds. The program application asks alumni what they have done since graduation, and if they are not a native English speaker.

“We don’t care if the alumni [were not model students] while at EMHS,” Paoli-Bailey said, “because we want to show the kids you don’t have to be perfect to get it together.”

The alumni will likely start off with group sessions focusing on graduating seniors, Valere said, but Raven Brewington,  who spearheaded the effort, said they would eventually like to connect with students in seventh grade , as they  are first starting their careers at Elmont Memorial High School; ninth grade, when students officially enter high school and start taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes; and 12th grade, when they are preparing to graduate and head to college or the workforce.

Students could either apply for the program or be nominated by a parent or a member of the Elmont Memorial High School staff. 

“The biggest thing is to make sure Elmont students know that there are a lot of Elmont alumni,”  Brewington said, “so they’re prepared to give back when they cross the stage.”

She added that she wished she had had someone she could have spoken with while she was in school.

The EAGLES association, Valere said, includes alumni from 1965 to 2020 who are at the top of their industries in fields ranging from entertainment to science, and art to education. For more information about the alumni association, join the Elmont Alumni Growing Leaders through Education and Service group on Facebook, follow @elmontalumni on Instagram or email elmontalum@gmail.com.