In Newburgh and New Rochelle, College Students Mentoring, Tutoring Area Youngsters

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Chase Piotrowski, a fifth-grade student at Bishop Dunn Memorial School in Newburgh, took some time to talk about his joyful interests in an online mentoring program with student government representatives from Mount St. Mary College, which shares the same campus with the grade school.

“I’m learning how governments are helping people during this crisis,” Chase, 11, told Catholic New York in an April 24 phone interview. “And I’m learning how I can help too. I’m enjoying the program, and I want to help people.” Chase said he also enjoys learning about how college student government works, and looks forward to taking part in that endeavor when he’s in college. 

Students from Mount St. Mary’s Student Government Association were enjoying mentoring the Bishop Dunn fifth graders at the youngsters’ school. And they didn’t let the coronavirus stop them, turning the classroom mentoring program into an online, virtual enterprise. In partnership with the college’s Student Activities Office, the Mount’s SGA met with the fifth graders online April 9 to discuss their next joint service project. The youngsters wore Mount SGA T-shirts that the college students gave them during their meeting in February. The service projects have included making thank you signs in support of health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. The posters and signs are placed on front widows of Newburgh area homes. 

The Mount’s student government members first met the fifth graders of Bishop Dunn during the Christmas season, when the Mount students donned festive sweaters and read “A Visit from St. Nicholas” to the children. The fifth graders collected dozens of toys for the Mount’s annual Giving Tree, which donates Christmas gifts to children from local needy families. Thanks to the help from Bishop Dunn, organizers said more than 1,000 gifts, the most ever, were gathered under the Giving Tree. 

The college maintains a close relationship with Bishop Dunn Memorial School, a pre-K to eighth grade school in the Catholic tradition. Education students from Mount St. Mary College engage in fieldwork at the elementary school under the guidance of Bishop Dunn faculty members. Many Mount graduates go on to work at Bishop Dunn, including the current principal, Nancy Benfer, a 2004 graduate.

Chase’s mother, Tara Piotrowski, said, “My son is learning so much about student government. He wants to help—he’s interested in what a government does, and how government helps people especially now during this crisis. The SGA students have been coming into the Zoom classes and encouraging them on ways they can help, like helping to raise money for food for people that need help right now.”

One of Chase’s online mentors is Joseph Galasso, 21, a Mount St. Mary senior who is vice president of the Mount’s SGA. The business major said the online tutoring program “is really amazing.”

“They’re great kids; they really do care. We have a bond with these kids that we developed when we were at school. We had fun with them, with the pizza parties, and we played basketball with them at one time. And our faculty members have helped us so much with organizing this.”

In New Rochelle, Iona College education students have been offering free virtual tutoring to help improve K-12 students’ online schoolwork during the Covid-19 crisis. The program, which began the week before Easter, involves more than 40 Iona undergraduate and graduate students, and nearly 140 families with children enrolled in about a dozen schools, mostly Catholic and public schools in Westchester. The Catholic schools are Salesian High School in New Rochelle, Sacred Heart High School in Yonkers and St. Francis Xavier Universal Pre-K in the Bronx.

The Iona College program is overseen by Dr. Amanda Howerton-Fox, assistant professor in Iona’s education department. “It’s going really well; it’s important for children who need that extra support, who benefit from one-on-one support from a caring individual,” Dr. Howerton-Fox told CNY. “This is a very hard time, and this benefits struggling parents and the volunteer tutors as well. The volunteers still have a way to give back. Iona is a service-based school.”

Diana Aguilar, 20, an Iona sophomore majoring in early childhood education, is one of the program tutors. Ms. Aguilar said, “It’s great that they can have this online tutoring; and not only are we helping them, they’re helping us.

“I’m learning so many skills through this program, it’s just amazing. I’m very happy to be able to help students learn through virtual teaching.”

Another tutor, Iona sophomore Juliana Barbieri, said, “It feels amazing to give back to the Westchester community, as we’ve been hit pretty hard with this pandemic. And getting positive feedback from parents was very reassuring.”

Soren Carlson-Hanson, 9, a third-grader at Greenvale Elementary School in Eastchester, is one of the students being tutored in the Iona program. His father, Ivor Hanson, said, “We really appreciate that this has come about; it’s really been helping Soren a lot.” Soren noted he’s learning well, and that even though he needs to stay at home “we can still see each other and work together, and be happy.”

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