Abril Dozal CC'13, Jessica Chi CC'15, and Dahlia Hassan CC'13Heights to Heights Mentors
CI Volunteers Help Middle Schoolers Reach New Heights
Getting through middle school is tough enough when you and your teachers are able to speak to each other in the same language. For students who have recently immigrated to the U.S. and must suddenly deal with the challenge of learning a new language, however, an extra helping hand can make all the difference.
Volunteers from Community Impact’s Heights to Heights Mentoring program work at Roberto Clemente Intermediate School in West Harlem to help establish just such a supportive environment for young people mastering English and acclimating to American culture.
Abril Dozal, CC ’13, was drawn to volunteering with Heights to Heights in part out of a desire to connect with her own cultural heritage. “I come from a similar background as many of the students we work with,” said Abril. “I wanted to stay connected to my roots.”
Working with young people in the process of learning English is a definite challenge for Heights to Heights mentors. As Jessica Chi, CC ’15 noted, the middle school students often say “I can barely even speak English, how am I supposed to do this?” While Heights to Heights mentorship sessions are held in English, the mentors are not so much concerned with getting across the particulars of spelling and grammar. The program is structured to match students struggling with their conversation skills with mentors willing to devote time and individual attention to the goal of developing their mentees’ comfort with conversation in a new language.
“We’re not just trying to teach them English,” said Jessica. “We’re trying to instill confidence.”
Dahlia Hassan, CC ’13, agreed that Heights to Heights is ultimately about building productive relationships. “The connection between mentor and mentee is of most importance,” she said. “After a lesson on astronomy, one of the kids told me he wants to be an astronomer,” said Dahila. “That was so gratifying!”
The one-on-one attention Heights to Heights volunteers provide has seen results in CI’s customary program evaluations. With weekly mentorship sessions, as well as the occasional field trip to engaging, enlightening locales like museums and courthouses, the Clemente students have shown improvements in their communication and social skills in and out of the classroom.
Heights to Heights ranks among CI’s fastest-growing programs, and new mentors are always in demand. If you’re a Columbia or Barnard student interested in mentoring, email Heights to Heights at firstname.lastname@example.org.