Op-ed: Virtual mentoring can provide critical support to NYC’s students of color

By Aaron Barnette

The COVID-19 pandemic and the long-overdue outcry against police brutality have disrupted the lives of New York City’s children and are rapidly turning existing issues of inequity into dire crises.

Students of color are the most likely to fall through the cracks. Boys of color in particular have been systematically under-served in terms of their emotional wellbeing. For many, school provides a needed source of stability and community, but now learning virtually and facing a summer with few options to keep them engaged, they are without their support networks, leaving them disconnected and potentially unable to process these stressors.

We must find a way to keep our boys engaged through their school communities.

It is crucially important for our schools to invest in virtual mentoring programs for all New York City students. By connecting students with one another and trained staff, virtual group mentoring sessions are an effective way to ensure that every child is socially and emotionally

Group mentoring sessions provide space for students to connect over their shared experiences and work together to find solutions to issues they face. They can also offer an opportunity to introduce students to topics that are crucial to their development outside of school.

At the Eagle Academy Foundation schools, a network of public schools focused on educating boys of color across the five boroughs of New York City and Newark, N.J., our students and staff have shown us the value of school-wide virtual support networks. Students who are
engaged in these programs are afforded another level of support that ensures they are continuing to learn and on track to reach important emotional and educational milestones.

With many summer programs now shut down and parents returning to work, the need to conduct regular virtual mentoring sessions is becoming even more apparent. As the summer already poses an increased risk of learning loss for students of color, this will be a crucial period in which we can either step up and support our students or allow an entire generation of vulnerable youth to fall behind.

The DOE and Mayor de Blasio must make a commitment to support our students by making mentoring and counseling available to all New York City students. Partners in the public and private sectors must be leveraged to provide mentoring opportunities.

We must rise to this challenge and create lasting models that can help us better engage all students – especially those that have been historically marginalized. By taking these vital steps now, we will establish a needed tool to assist our students during this time. Only by providing this emotional support can we stem a looming crisis in the life outcomes of our young men and set them up for better futures.

Aaron Barnette is the Director of Strategic Partnerships & Mentoring for the Eagle Schools network