Mentors: Showing children the way
by Julie Anne Rancourt, Middletown Press Correspondent
friendships with caring adults.
There are currently 56 children matched with mentors in 11 schools throughout Middletown, while fourteen children are waiting to be matched with mentors. A disproportionate amount of those – thirteen children – attend MacDonnough Elementary School, as administrators recognize the benefits of the program and more mentors become interested in helping the most disadvantaged students.
Jon Romeo, Principal of MacDonnough Elementary School, said, “It’s great for us to have positive role models. We’ve had some high profile mentors, such as the mayor, and it just lights up the children. It’s the highlight of their week when the mentors come in.”
Mentors usually meet their student once a week for lunch or during recess time to talk, play a game or just share some time together.
Romeo recounted a time when, following the Kleen Energy explosion, a student recognized the mayor on television and remarked, “Eli’s mentor is on TV.”
In addition to the mayor, the mentor program has attracted retired individuals, members of the Middletown Police Department - including former Chief Lynn Baldoni and current Acting Chief Patrick McMahon – members of the Middletown Fire Department, and community leaders from across the city.
Marc Sadinsky, a salesman for Intel Corporation, has been involved with the program for 14 years, mentoring five children in five different schools.
“The kids don’t care about titles, they just want someone to spend time with them,” Sadinsky said before giving newcomer Matt Pugliese some advice.
“The kids are cool, just have fun.”
Sadinsky recently ran into one of the first boys he mentored on Main Street. He said it was surreal to see this boy who is now 6 feet 4 inches tall and 20-years old.
The student Sadinsky is mentoring now is a little shy about discussing his troubled family life, and the mentor isn’t meant to be a councilor, so they vary activities such as having lunch, going to the school library or gym and just spending that time together each week. Sadinsky said he found out through the evaluation forms that the students and mentors fill out every year that the highlight for the student last year when Sadinsky brought McDonald’s lunch for them both.
“I don’t eat that stuff, but that was really cool for him, so I made an exception,” Sadinsky said.
Oddfellows Theater Managing Director Matt Pugliese recently joined the mentoring program and was surprised to find out that his student was adjusting to life with a cochlear implant, which Pugliese’s mother also had. The student is learning American Sign Language and Pugliese was pleased that he could help with that process.
“This was a genuine opportunity for two people to get to know each other,” Pugliese said.
Hal Kaplan, who coordinates the program, which is a joint effort between the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Education, said he listens to what the mentors tell him in matching them with students. There are never enough mentors for all the students in the program and they have especially have difficulty attracting men to be mentors.
Jeffrey Cohen, from WNPR, met his student before he entered the mentoring program through a hiking club. With his work schedule, it’s difficult for the pair to meet during lunch, so they meet one morning a week, usually to play basketball, checkers or check out bugs.
“We started doing homework, but it wasn’t much fun and he’s really into bugs. And you’re not a teacher, you’re not a social worker, you just come and hang out. You don’t need a certain skill set, it’s mostly about consistency,” Cohen said.
The journalist has two young children, the oldest of which will be entering kindergarten next year at the school.
“The schools are the focal point of the neighborhood and this is a great way to become involved in that community and, as a perspective parent, evaluate the school,” Cohen said, adding, “And it’s important to model that behavior for my kids.”
Sadinsky also said his children, a junior in high school and an eighth-grader, think it’s cool that he spends time with his student.
Sadinsky summed up the mentor experience by saying, “It’s fun, you make a difference, and that to me is just great.”
For those interested in the program, they can call (860) 347-6924