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Students in graduation

STUDENT/PARTNER ALLIANCE: AN ENDURING PRESENCE IN THE LIVES OF GRAY BEES

February 2021

You don’t have to be at St. Benedict’s Prep to accompany kids through St. Benedict’s Prep. Student/Partner Alliance (S/PA) — a non-profit organization with a long track record of helping underserved students in northern New Jersey achieve lasting success in high school and college — perfectly illustrates the point. Here at The Hive, S/PA mentors and partners have been an enduring presence in the lives of Gray Bees for more than two decades.

Based in Summit, N.J., the non-profit’s unique model encompasses scholarships to help motivated students in urban areas attend private schools, as well as one-on-one mentoring. “There are a lot of mentoring organizations and a lot of scholarship organizations,” explained Executive Director Margaret Momber. “S/PA is distinctive because it combines the two. Our view is that scholarships at schools like St. Benedict’s Prep provide a strong academic education. Additionally, the support of a mentor helps to enable a student to go on to college and meet the demands of a rigorous college education.”

Since 1993, the year the non-profit officially incorporated, S/PA has provided 2,200 low-income scholarships overall. At St. Benedict’s, the organization currently supports 40 students in the Girls and Boys Prep Divisions.

Relationship Spans 25+ Years

S/PA makes a four-year commitment to each student it accepts, and its partner schools must meet a number of criteria. A focus on serving low-income students in urban areas is at the top of the list, which is why partner schools to date have all been Catholic secondary schools in Essex, Hudson and Union counties. Partner schools also buy into the mentoring portion of the program, host kick-off breakfasts and lunches for mentees and mentors to meet, and ensure students attend training and enrichment events. S/PA and its mentors also receive student report cards. “It’s another set of eyes and a nudge if students need one,” said Momber. “If a student is slipping down or upward, the mentor can reach out and talk to them.”

St. Benedict’s was one of the first partner schools chosen by S/PA. With a relationship spanning more than 25 years, hundreds of Gray Bees have benefitted from the program. In many instances, mentors and mentees have remained in touch through college and beyond.

Chris Beltran ’07 in fact, still considers his former mentor, Emmett J. Daly, an advisor and friend. Now a talent acquisition specialist at Mountainside Medical Center, Beltran became a mentor his junior year at Montclair State University and has been paying it forward ever since. He believes mentoring can be as pivotal in a young person’s life as the alumni fireside chats he experienced as a first year on the Freshman Overnight. “Alumni came back to speak to us to get us the buy into the vision,” remembered Beltran, who joined the S/PA Board of Trustees in 2018. “I think it’s important for a young black man to see someone from Newark who looks like them in this role of mentor. I feel very strongly about that.”

Responding to the Crisis

When the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, S/PA created an emergency fund to ensure the 180 students in the program did not fall behind on tuition. “We stepped in at a moment’s notice because we understood the families in our program were going to be hit hard,” said Daly, who serves as president of the Board of Trustees. “It was an immediate shot in the arm.” The organization also increased scholarship assistance significantly for 2021-22, while mentors and partners extended their support of 2020 graduates, checking in on former mentees whether they were attending college virtually or in-person last fall. Additionally, nine former Benedictine Academy (BA) students in the S/PA program kept their scholarships and mentorships when they transferred to St. Benedict’s.

“If a school closes, we will follow the students,” said Momber. “When a number of BA students chose to go to St. Benedict’s or advocated for the Girls Prep Division, we supported the girls in that transition and will continue to do so until they graduate.”

Headmaster Fr. Edwin Leahy, O.S.B. ’63 said St. Benedict’s was extremely fortunate to have S/PA in its corner. “S/PA comes at this in a really empathetic way because they’re willing to spend time with our kids and get to know them. They see and understand the suffering and difficult circumstances kids in and around Newark have to overcome, which is huge. We’re so grateful for everything they’ve done for our students over the last 25 years and especially during this pandemic year.”

Are You an S/PA Alum? Consider Mentoring!

Though the pandemic has prevented in-person mentor/mentee events, S/PA continues to support its matched mentees and mentors and held online activities and events for freshmen in the fall. The organization is always on the lookout for new mentors, especially the graduates of its partner schools. “Alumni know and appreciate what we’ve done,” said Daly. “They have firsthand experience of what S/PA can do for students.”

To become a mentor, candidates undergo an application process, background check and receive mentor training. Momber estimates 10 St. Benedict’s alumni have now become mentors themselves. “St. Benedict’s graduates make the absolute best mentors for St. Benedict’s freshmen,” she stated. “Four years is a big ask. But it doesn’t take that much time, and it makes such a difference. Nobody can do it better.”

Interested in mentoring with S/PA? Mentors range in age from college-aged (candidates should be in their junior year) to retirees and everything in between. Visit studentpartneralliance.org to learn more or contact akent@studentpartneralliance.org with any questions.