April 18, 2007

C.U. Mentors Urban Youth

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Although many well-funded high schools in New York City have high student graduation rates, only 39 percent of New York City public high school students will earn their high school diploma.

Nessia Sloane ’08, marketing manager of The Sun, hopes to change just that with her recent launch of the Cornell Urban Youth Mentorship Program. The primary goal of the program is to increase the number of high school graduates by preparing middle school students to succeed in institutions of higher learning.

Sloane has a background in education, having worked with the public advocates office of New York City, various child welfare projects, the Roosevelt Institute and Reach. She began developing the mentorship program with Maria Davidis, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences this year. Through their collaborative efforts with Prof. Ken Reardon, city and regional planning, the program is now running and accepting student applications. Reardon is in charge of the program’s administration in Manhattan as well as the regional planning department.

“My main hope for this program is that it serves as an example of how Cornell can help guide under-resourced students into higher institutions and hopefully expand to more schools in New York City,” Sloane said. “It could be a very interesting experiment to increase Cornell’s outreach.”

To provide ample opportunities for urban students, Cornell is recruiting college coaches to foster one-on-one relationships with New York City middle school students. The Cornell college coaches will take fall and spring classes in urban education with an emphasis on the evolution of American public education, principles of mentoring, the high school-college transitional process and mentoring strategies, which will help them better create close relationships with the students through e-mail and telephone. The department of city and regional planning will handle applications, organize trips to a Brooklyn-area middle school and re-evaluate the program each year. It will also plan summer workshops to better educate the urban teachers.

“The playing field is not level in terms of the chances that young people have of getting to college and universities,” Reardon said. “Richer areas have better chances, higher technologies, and better teachers. Small rural schools and large urban schools with no huge tax bases don’t have many of these core services. Their road to higher education is much more problematic. We want kids go beyond high school training, to get some advanced degree and pursue intellectual and personal interests. Some of us start on third base, while other are asked to step to the plate with no shoes and a broken bat. We can make a significant contribution to advance equal opportunity.”