Bringing Real-Life Issues into the Classroom

The Moylan Mentorship program creates a safe space in which Trinity Students and Hartford Youth can discuss racism and discrimination. 

During the summer of 2015, I had the privilege of working as a Dream Camp counselor in Hartford, Connecticut, where I led a class of 30 children for four weeks. There, I realized the importance of directly interacting with a younger generation and, consequently, was inspired to join a similarly structured organization: The Moylan Elementary School Mentorship program.
This program was started by Professor Dyrness, the Associate Professor of Educational Studies at Trinity College. Her idea came into fruition after she realized that Hartford Public Schools focus strictly on grades and test scores, rather than holistic life lessons. She wanted to design a program for students to get out of the classroom and to discuss topics like discrimination and racism, which directly affect the lives of many students. Professor Dyrness focused on specifically helping public schools, due to the fact that private school students generally have access to more resources. She partnered with Moylan Elementary School, a neighborhood school in proximity to Trinity, and thus started the Moylan Mentorship program.
In this program, teachers select fifth grade students who they believe would benefit from being paired with a mentor. Approximately 10 Trinity students are involved, each assigned two mentees. Every Monday evening, mentors and their mentees engage in a dialogue about racial relations. To guarantee sensitivity regarding these topics and knowledge about their associated challenges, mentors have to be of a minority group. Most Moylan students are from minority groups, with 97% being either Black or Hispanic/Latino(a). Most people may wonder why mentors would want to talk to ten year olds about such serious topics, but the reason is simple: most of the students have faced these challenges themselves.

At my first session at Moylan, the mentor facilitator stuck blue and green sticky notes on each child, at random. After everyone introduced themselves, the children with the blue sticky notes were given snacks, while the children with a green sticky note had to wait. Professor Dynress then asked all of them what they thought of this unequal distribution. One of the students, Kayla, who sported a blue sticky note, said, “[The kids with the blue sticky notes] represent the white people, and [the kids with the green sticky notes] represent the black people.” All of mentors, and even Professor Dyrness, were caught off guard by her response, but we immediately understood why she had answered as she had. She further explained her reply: “Back in the day, white people and black people were separated, and the white people treated the black people badly.” The mentors brought up the word racism and asked the kids if racism still existed today. Janiyah said, “Yes. Down South.” Another student responded: “Even here, I see discrimination.”
Many of the Moylan students have faced racism and discrimination throughout their lives. As students who are also of color, mentors have walked the same path. By talking about these issues together, this program has created a safe space for the Moylan students.
Toward the end of the sticky note activity, Professor Dynress asked the students with the blue sticky notes if they’d give their snack to the kids with green sticky notes. They nodded their heads and agreed, echoing sentiments of fairness and equality for everyone.

By: Juliana Perez ’17 

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