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Sacred Heart Students Serve As Mentors To Bridgeport Middle Schoolers

Sacred Heart University student volunteers and participants in the school's academic mentoring program for middle school students in Bridgeport pose for a photo during an event last fall.
Sacred Heart University student volunteers and participants in the school's academic mentoring program for middle school students in Bridgeport pose for a photo during an event last fall. Photo Credit: Contributed

FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Sacred Heart University’s Jones-Zimmermann Academic Mentoring Program, which pairs volunteer underclassmen with at-risk middle school students, is going strong in its 15th year.

Since the program began in 2001, more than 100 of the university’s students have helped more than 200 middle school students at Bridgeport’s John Winthrop School. The program is designed to put local middle schoolers who appear to be at-risk academically on a path to more educated and successful future.

Sacred Heart freshmen and sophomore students mentor students as they progress from sixth through eighth grade.

Andrea Canuel, a university official and mentoring program coordinator, said the program shows strong dedication on the part of its student volunteers.

“It’s a really strong commitment on the part of Sacred Heart students—to make a three-year, voluntary commitment to something that’s not an athletic team or some other kind of on-campus activity,” Canuel said. “And it’s a really good example of one of the best ways our students engage in the community.”

During the mentoring program, Sacred Heart students engage the Winthrop students with arts activities and science experiments.

The program also brings the middle schoolers on field trips to places such as the Bronx Zoo, the Maritime Aquarium and the Sports Center of Connecticut.

The past academic year also featured a curriculum centered on media literacy, which was held in collaboration with faculty from the university’s school of communication and media arts.

“The students were introduced to the concept of being more critical consumers of media,” Canuel said. “In this age of everyone having a smartphone and being on social media—as well as all the traditional media of movies, TV and commercials—the curriculum helped students have more awareness about the messages that they’re receiving.”

Julie Gonzalez, a sixth-grade teacher at Winthrop, said the mentoring program greatly benefits her students.

“The Academic Mentoring Program has been essential to the success of John Winthrop students over the past 15 years,” Gonzalez said. “Middle school is a transitional time for our youth. The Sacred Heart mentors are not only there to provide academic help to their mentees, but also to build relationships with our teens and to counsel them through difficult situations.”

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