By Jennifer Quaye and Kate Cebik

Common Ground grows leaders. You’ve probably heard us say it. You may have seen evidence of it in the amazing things our alumni do. One way we put these words into action is our Student Mentoring and Ambassador Program (SMAP). Every Monday, 18 SMAP students gather in classroom five to meet with community members who serve as mentors, to build relationships, skills, and experience. One week, Valen Grandelski of Yale University School of Nursing led a discussion with students about in-school behavior and setting an example for younger peers. Another week, Dyamond Myers of New Haven Board of Education led SMAPers in discussions on social justice issues highlighting Spike Lee’s School Daze. Later, Wendy Bien-Aime, a student of Quinnipiac University, led the group in team-building activities.

Students Yasmine Scipio, Thalee Martinez, Jeanne Sakouvogui, Olivia Clapp, Nyasia Mercer, Jillian Kenyon talk networking with Ms. Quaye and Mr. Johnston. Students were encouraged to shake hands with every guest, engage guests in conversation by inquiring about careers or school, and to offer information on their schooling and activities.

Students Yasmine Scipio, Thalee Martinez, Jeanne Sakouvogui, Olivia Clapp, Nyasia Mercer, Jillian Kenyon talk networking with Ms. Quaye and Mr. Johnston. Students were encouraged to shake hands with every guest, engage guests in conversation by inquiring about careers or school, and to offer information on their schooling and activities.

Each week, the students have the opportunity to build relationships with community leaders, learn from their experiences, and apply them to their lives here at Common Ground and their future plans. Senior Jeanne Sakouvogui describes the meetings as “a way for us to catch up and talk about the things we can do to be a better student and leader in our community at school.” Senior Yasmine Scipio adds, “[The meetings] help me get new views on life.” Our first crop of mentors came to us via the Inaugural SMAP Networking Mixer this past spring, where students invited college students and professionals from the community for dinner on campus. Students met with potential mentors, shook hands, and employed their networking skills. As a result, SMAP was successful in getting 20+ mentors to pledge to work with SMAP for the year. SMAP plans to grow its mentoring network to ensure students learn about a diverse range of career and educational pathways, and develop an expanded perspective on the world around them.

Interested in getting involved as a mentor yourself? Contact Jennifer Quaye (jennifer.quaye@commongroundct.org / (203) 389-4333 x1281) to lend your talents and be part of this program.

Students quickly demonstrate their leadership ability. SMAP students regularly manage and staff our open houses, speaking to parents and prospective students about the amazing opportunities available here. While hosting the Middle School Counselor’s Luncheon, the Counselors were so impressed by how sophomore Thalee Martinez and junior Fatou Cisse answered questions and brought the Common Ground experience to life, both students were invited to come speak at recruitment events at middle schools around the city. Junior Fatou Cisse found that being a part of the SMAP program made her more aware of being an example it the community, saying

SMAP “made me more responsible for my actions.”

Senior Jeanne Sakouvogui adds her take on the program benefits, noting,

“I’ve learned to control myself in a positive way, I grew as a better leader and it helped me to stay on track.”

The SMAP students gain valuable leadership skills and put those skills into action both in their lives and to impact the lives of our other students. SMAPers are required  to be an example in their community and take on younger students as mentees. This phase of the program is just beginning, but we are hopeful that fostering meaningful relationships between our student leaders and underclassmen will cultivate the new leaders of CGHS. SMAP was developed out of the staff and student desire to see a program that identifies student leaders and potential leaders and that give them an outlet to demonstrate those skills. We are pleased by the initial results and look forward to growing this program that strengthens the intersection between community and school, to strengthen New Haven and the future generation of leaders.