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Mentoring USA Enhances Self-Esteem Development for Immigrant Youth
by Matilda Cuomo & Preeti Parasharami

Ana, an immigrant youth from the Dominican Republic, once said to her mentor, “[By moving to the United States] I have lost my sense of language, culture and self identity.” Ana, who attends PS 20, speaks of the difficulty or ‘disconnect’ many newly immigrated youth experience when attending city schools. Nearly one third of the total student populations in New York City schools are immigrants. This ever-increasing population of children begets an interesting challenge: how educators aid in the development of immigrant youth self-esteem and provide them with a sense of connection to their new communities despite the apparent language and cultural barriers.

Mentoring USA (MUSA), partnered with New York City public schools and other after-school agencies in September 2001 to offer an English as a Second Language (ESL) mentoring program, which provides English Language Learners (ELLs) with the academic and emotional support of a caring adult mentor. The role of an ESL mentor is twofold. Primarily, the mentor helps the mentee improve his or her English skills by supplementing the city’s English as a Second Language curriculum with one-to-one reading and writing lessons. ESL mentors also prepare immigrant youth for the rigors of middle school and high school, providing their mentees with the opportunity to better engage in the process of learning. In this way, the one-to-one relationship between the mentee and the mentor provides ELLs with guidance and the self-esteem to success.

During the 2002-2003 school year the ESL mentoring program thrived at its five pilot sites as well as at two additional sites. For example, PS 161, a West Harlem middle school site that attracts few mentors because of its location, had a one hundred percent increase in mentor enrollment. The impact of the increased mentor participation is evinced by an increase in scores on the Language Arts Exam and the visible change in the children’s demeanors. As Liana Acosta, a social worker who commutes from New Jersey to the Harlem site, says, “Mentoring at PS 161 was the experience of a lifetime! Knowing that their grades had significantly improved and hearing their laughter every Saturday was worth the one hour drive to New York every week.”

At PS 161, with the support of Site Coordinator Alicia Hobbs and Principal Barbara Brown, the pairs had the opportunity to explore the Harlem community by taking a walking tour of the CCNY campus and its surrounds and attending various cultural events including the World’s Fair, a Yoga workshop, a Knicks game and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

ESL mentoring programs also run at PS 20, a highly diverse Middle School located in the lower-east side, PS 188, District 1’s site for all children who have recently immigrated from Spanish speaking countries, PS 70, a Long Island City school with a high population of Eastern European immigrant youth and at the FordhamYouth Ministry, a Bronx after-school program serving children from the Caribbean and Central America.

In general, immigrant students have higher dropout rates than the native born, and for this reason the ESL mentoring program has expanded its scope to include high school students. Mentoring USA partnered with The Door, A Center of Alternatives, Inc., and Con Edison to provide teenage immigrant youth with adult mentors. Specifically, the ESL mentoring program at The Door has matched Chinese youth with mentors from a variety of backgrounds. Most of the children in the mentoring program emigrated from China less than a year ago. Their limited English skills have been an inspiration rather than an obstacle for mentors. As Matthew Cavazos, a first generation Mexican–American and mentor at The Door, says, “ESL mentoring has allowed me to improve my teaching and communication skills and most importantly, has given me the greatest opportunity—to touch the life of someone special and make a difference in the community.”

At Washington Irving High School, Con Edison employees spend their lunch hour mentoring Chinese and Hispanic youth. This year Con Edison partnered with Mentoring USA to provide training for the mentors and workshops and curriculum materials for the mentees. David Hill, in his second year of mentoring at Washington Irving says of his experience, “I think that Washington Irving’s ESL program is a wonderful opportunity to help kids who are living in a tough environment, facing huge challenges, often while living in backgrounds where support is lacking. It’s important as mentors to give something back to our community, by acting as role models, being caring adults and being interested in the mentees.”

Mentoring USA continues to meet the challenge of helping English Language Learners build self-esteem, succeed in school and in their communities by providing one-to-one mentoring to newly immigrated immigrant youth. With over 130,000 English Language Learners attending New York City public schools, MUSA hopes to expand its program to include more sites in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. None of the ESL programs run in the summe; however we recruit during the summer for the fall. On June 20th, mentors and mentees from PS 161, FYM and The Door showed they are conscientious about continuing their relationship all year round by attending our annual picnic. Since the ESL program was piloted in the fall of 2001, numerous pairs have continued their relationships from middle school into high school, demonstrating the continuous support that Mentoring USA encourages, which so benefits these children.#

Matilda Raffa Cuomo is the former first lady of New York State and is the Founder and Chair of Mentoring USA. Preeti Parasharami is the B.R.A.V.E./Juliana and ESL Program Manager at Mentoring USA.



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