$50,000 Grant Ensures Continuation and Growth of Fairfield’s Inner-City Academic Mentoring Program

$50,000 Grant Ensures Continuation and Growth of Fairfield’s Inner-City Academic Mentoring Program

Cesar Batalla students with Fairfield undergrad

(l-r): 6th graders Justin Jimenez and Khadhija Randall study with Brianna Hay '22.

With the renewed support of a recent $50,000 grant from the Marie and John Zimmermann Fund, Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life has more than doubled the number college mentors and middle school mentees in its Jones-Zimmermann Academic Mentoring Program (JZ-AMP) at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport, Conn.

“The continued generosity of the Marie and John Zimmermann Fund has enabled JZ-AMP to thrive,” said Andrea Canuel, associate director of service learning at the Center for Faith and Public Life (CFPL). Canuel noted that JZ-AMP is an offshoot of the longstanding Student Teacher Empowerment Partnership (STEP) between the University’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, CFPL, and Cesar Batalla School. Since 2011, STEP has engaged faculty, staff, and hundreds of Fairfield undergrads with almost every classroom teacher at Cesar Batalla.

JZ-AMP was formed in response to a pressing need for a well-staffed, well-funded after-school program that focuses on academic tutoring as well as cultural and social enrichment. In just one year, the customized tutoring and mentoring program has grown to include 21 Fairfield University undergraduates and more than 40 Cesar Batalla students. Each undergraduate mentor has made a three-year commitment to provide academic tutoring, life-skills coaching, and enrichment activities for two Cesar Batalla students. 

A key component of Fairfield’s JZ-AMP partnership is the intentional recruitment, hire, and retention of undergraduate students from diverse socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds, to match those of the youngsters they will mentor. In these paid positions, student mentors are expected to meet bi-weekly with their assigned mentees, attend regular training and check-in meetings, and assist in planning and implementing enrichment activities. They are also encouraged to interact with the parents and families of their mentees, to offer holisitic and sustained support. 

Sarah Popolizio ’19 has been working as a JZ-AMP mentor at Cesar Batalla since spring 2018. “It has been such a rewarding experience for both myself as well as, hopefully, the students,” she shared. “My favorite part about being a mentor-tutor is seeing the students succeed and being able to build connections and learn about them as individuals.” As an economics major and educational studies minor, Popolizio said that her experience in JZ-AMP has helped shape the role she hopes take as an educator. 

Academically at-risk middle schoolers performing below grade-level in both math and reading are recommended for JZ-AMP based on standardized test results and teacher assessments. JZ-AMP removes financial and logistical barriers to participation in the after-school program by making participation free and providing transportation home after program dismissal.

In addition to an improvement in overall attitudes about school and academics, program goals for JZ-AMP mentees include a 15% performance improvement on math and reading assessments after one year of participation. After participating in JZ-AMP during middle school, it is further hoped that students will go on to attain high school diplomas in four years at a rate of 85%, compared with Bridgeport Public School’s average of 74.9%. Long-range tracking procedures will measure the success of the Cesar Batalla program in achieving these goals.

JZ-AMP was founded in 2000 by Connecticut State Representative Reginald Jones and his school board colleague John Zimmermann, as a way to curb drop-out rates in inner-city schools. Designed to build strong and meaningful mentor-mentee relationships while instilling social responsibility and civic engagement, the successful program also has established partnerships with Trinity College, Sacred Heart University, and Yale, to offer similar after-school tutoring at other inner-city schools in Connecticut.

In addition to providing hands-on experience to undergraduates exploring careers in education, JZ-AMP mentors also stand to benefit from the development of leadership and intercultural communication skills, and the satisfaction of contributing to society at large.

“I have been a mentor since my first year at Fairfield and I can definitely say that it has had a great impact on me,” said Anita Sebabi ’21. “This program has helped me develop my leadership skills and work as a team with other mentors. I have also learned to develop a genuine mentor-mentee relationship through this program, and it is a fulfilling experience to know that I am making an impact in someone’s life.”

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Last modified: 02-22-19 10:38 AM


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