kids reading book while teacher teaching in class room at YM&YWHA

Creating a Culture of Service at Columbia Secondary School

In the fourth year of the Y’s SONYC program at Columbia Secondary School, we’ve rallied our program around the theme “Better Together.” As a campus with multiple schools, we jump at the opportunity to stretch this concept to foster building-wide community. One collaboration we’re particularly proud of is with Book Mentors, one of our SONYC electives, and P.S. 125’s literacy program for kindergarteners (also funded and staffed by the Y).

Book Mentors is full of eager 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who are excited to mentor the kindergarteners who share their building on 123rd Street and help them cultivate a love of reading. With the help of their SONYC instructor Antoine, participants in this class lead read-alouds and design interactive games and projects to pair with the literacy program’s book selections. The result is phenomenal! Our participants’ understanding of literary elements, storytelling, and mentorship develop with each session. Here’s what 6th grader James has to say about his experience so far:

“I signed up for Book Mentors because it feels good to help people. I wasn’t sure it would work well with little kids, but I would go home and practice my strategies with my little brother. Anything is possible with practice. I’m excited to be in Book Mentors AGAIN this semester because I’m committed and I think I make a good mentor. I’d like to be a therapist or counselor when I grow up so I can really get inside people’s emotions and help them better understand themselves.”

Although this is only the beginning of James’ journey at Columbia Secondary School, the Y’s SONYC program has allowed him to make connections between what happens in his after school classroom, his family life, and his potential career path. This experience in Book Mentors is one of the many ways we seek to foster deeper learning and challenge participants across our programming to expand their perspectives.

By Nicole Bryant, SONYC Program Manager at Columbia Secondary School

About the Y
Established in 1917, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) is Northern Manhattan’s premier Jewish community center — serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse constituency — improving the quality of life for people of all ages through critical social services and innovative programs in health, wellness, education, and social justice, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and caring for those in need.

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