Guardian Angel Mentoring Program Helps Cathedral Academy at Pompei Grads Succeed

| February 1, 2013

By Claudia Mathis

Daniela Dhieu, a 9th grader at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse, NY, is getting help from a program that is changing her life immeasurably. She is getting personal guidance and help with her academic studies from her adult mentor, Tammi Fabiano, through the Guardian Angel Mentor & Tutor Program.

Dhieu, along with 17 other students, began to receive assistance with their studies this past summer at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse, where the four-week program was held. The program consisted of three components: math, literacy and study skills.

“We had remarkable results from the summer program,” said Catherine Ranieri, educational program coordinator at the Guardian Angel Society, who noted that 75 percent of the students increased their literacy skills and 60 to 65 percent increased their math skills. The program has been extended into the 2012-13 school year with tutors and mentors in place at Bishop Ludden Junior-Senior High School and Bishop Grimes Prep, as well as Christian Brothers Academy.

Bishop Grimes student Daniela Dhieu works with Tammi Fabiano through the Guardian Angel Mentor & Tutor Program.

The Guardian Angel Society is a nonprofit organization aimed at supporting underserved students and graduates of Cathedral Academy at Pompei (CAP) in Syracuse. Through the help of generous donors, it provides tuition assistance for CAP students, as well as scholarship opportunities for students to continue a Catholic education at the secondary level.

The Guardian Angel Mentor & Tutor Program has been extended into the 2012-13 school year with tutors and mentors in place at the high schools to help recent graduates of CAP make the transition to secondary schools.

“I like the way the teachers taught. I was able to get things right away because of the way they explained things. I also learned a lot about myself. For example, I learned that I should believe in myself more. Before, I used to keep answers to myself, but now, I say the answers out loud. I started to raise my hand and share my answers because of their encouragement. I know I will become more successful in life with their help. It has made a difference for me,” said Dhieu about her mentoring experience.

Ranieri said she collaborated with the principals from the high schools to “build a path to success” for eligible students, many of whom are refugees from foreign countries. “When they entered CAP they were seriously deprived of language skills because of their lack of education when they were in refugee camps,” explained Ranieri. “When a child finishes 6th grade and enters 7th, they’re still not prepared, and especially for the state math tests. We know from research that if they aren’t prepared by the 9th grade, it’s very likely that they will drop out of school.”

Ranieri said that the program is designed to equip students with confidence, determination and the skills to set goals and solve problems These students have great potential, but they need a mentor or “friend” to encourage and guide them as they gain skills, set goals and prepare for college and beyond.

Dhieu’s mentor Fabiano had always wanted to work with the Guardian Angel students, and she got the opportunity during the summer session. “It has been much more rewarding than I had originally anticipated,” Fabiano said. “I feel that it is so important to reach children and impact them in ways they can carry with them beyond the mentoring/tutoring process. Our young people have so much going for them if they recognize the gifts they inherently have inside themselves. Sometimes it takes another individual or adult to acknowledge and identify their strengths in order for them to believe in it for themselves.”

Fabiano said adults and students began to build positive relationships during the summer session, which have carried over into the new school year. “This bond was evident again when we met with the students this fall,” she said. “We greeted each other with smiles and hugs and pleased hearts.”

Fabiano meets with Dhieu once each week. They begin each session by discussing Dhieu’s personal life, academics and her relationship with her teachers. Then, they discuss her goals, prioritizing and tackling each one.

“Sometimes we discuss strategies she can use to improve outcomes, figuring out her role in what is going on,” said Fabiano. “I give kudos when necessary and discuss possible things she could try to enhance her situation. Daniela is a very motivated person and truly wants to succeed. I love that she takes responsibility for where she is at and is very coachable and very easy to spend time with. She has a happy heart and is beautiful inside and out.”

Bruce LaGrow is serving as mentor and tutor to Bak Bak, a Bishop Grimes Prep 8th grader. As a student of Sudanese heritage, Bak faces many challenges in his education, as his parents are unable to help him study for his Spanish class and he often has trouble juggling many subjects at once.

“I first met Bak Bak during this past summer’s session at St. Vincent de Paul Church, and over the eight-week term I learned much about him and what his learning needs were. These will become hurdles he will need to cross in this school year and into the next for him to have success,” said LaGrow. “I hope to be able to, in some small way, assist him in getting there.”

LaGrow has tutored 6th grade students in math at CAP since 2004. “My first year was very enriching and I believe I was helpful to my student,” said LaGrow.

Reflecting on the years he served as a tutor, LaGrow said, “For me, it was a chance to do something that I enjoy doing outside the realm of my day-to-day career in financial services. The business that I am in is all about caring for people, and working to help our young people learn and succeed is important to me personally.”

“The Guardian Angel Society tutors really helped me a lot with my studies,” Bak said. “Because of this program, I will get the help with this school year and my future.”

Ranieri is overwhelmed by the generosity of the people who have volunteered to mentor and tutor the students. “The students and parents have said that they are very grateful for their help,” she said. “These days, it really does take a village.”

Claudia Mathis is a staff writer for The Catholic Sun.


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