In New Haven, Yale University serves as a constant reminder of the doors opened by pursuing a college education. To help the city’s public school students achieve that goal, a group of Yale students are reaching out as teachers and mentors in the community.
Youth Together, a Yale service program, has provided academic enrichment and mentoring in New Haven for 15 years. The program, which includes 75 Yale students, pairs Yalies with students from Roberto Clemente Middle School and Wilbur Cross High School. Guidance counselors and English teachers from the public schools alert Youth Together about students who are struggling.
Academically, the program focuses on enriching writing skills. At the end of the year, the schools produce journals that compile participants’ writings to offer tangible evidence of their improvement. Also, a major component of the program’s high school division is helping students prepare for college applications.
Beyond the academic support, Yale students also act as mentors to the New Haven students. This interaction includes taking students to local events, such as Yale football games, an annual trip to a Yankees game, and last year’s visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
“If they are having trouble at home or at school, we try to act as friends,” said Raaj Narayan ’03, Youth Together’s director. “We try to provide a safety net.”
The New Haven students are not the only ones to have gained insight from the program. Youth Together’s Ashleigh Hegedus ’03 was touched to be invited to her student Yibo’s birthday party, and to have the chance to celebrate the Chinese New Year with her.
“It’s rewarding to meet with young people who are so excited to have an older person take an interest in their lives,” said Josh Clemente ’05, one of the program’s financial directors.
The effect of this individual attention is often dramatic. Narayan recalled Sharone, an introverted boy he mentored, who struggled with his writing for two years. Finally, over pizza at Naples Pizza and Restaurant, Sharone opened up, writing a powerful piece about the struggles of being an black boy in New Haven. He read the piece aloud at his graduation at the end of the year and received a standing ovation. Oscar, another boy in the program, not only moved out of his school’s lowest reading group but also began to receive the highest grades in his class.
A high number of participants who remain in Youth Together for several years. Some Roberto Clemente Middle School students even continue to participate in Youth Together when they advance to Wilbur Cross High School. Narayan said the program has had a dramatic impact on college attendance rates.
“One of the things we’re most proud about is that nearly every student goes on to college,” Narayan said. This compares with 81.4 percent for New Haven public school students as a whole.
With a new school year beginning, members are optimistic about Youth Together’s future.
“This is by far the largest response from the Yale community we have seen,” said Michelle Rosenthal ’05, co-coordinator for the program’s middle school branch.