Collegiate Upper Schoolers Support YMCA’s STAR Program

Three days a week throughout the school year, Collegiate Upper School students can be found tutoring and mentoring immigrant and refugee students at Quioccasin Middle School through the Tuckahoe YMCA’s Strengthening Teens Academically and Recreationally (STAR) program.
The program, piloted three years ago, was created to help the burgeoning refugee population acclimate to life in the U.S. — and to life in Middle School. Each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 3:30-5:30 p.m., nine Collegiate students travel to Quioccasin, where they help up to 40 Middle Schoolers with their homework, engage in physical activity and participate in a craft or other project.

Liz Bowling, Upper School Spanish teacher, serves as the group’s faculty coordinator. Before they begin the program, students receive a baseline introduction on immigration and the refugee crisis so that they understand what these Middle School students may have experienced.  

“When you think about what these kids go through and the transition they are making, it’s incredible,” Mrs. Bowling said. “But ultimately, they are just Middle School kids trying to do what all Middle School kids try to do, and they have relationship issues and parental issues, which are the same.”

Amy Kaplan, a Collegiate senior, has volunteered with STAR both semesters the past two years. She finds helping the students improve their English skills and offering guidance about Middle School to be a rewarding experience.

“I enjoy building the relationships because it can be hard when you’re in a completely new place,” she said. “I’m really enjoying getting to know a lot of the kids.”

Her favorite part is arriving at Quioccasin at the start of the program and greeting the students.

“They run up and give you a hug,” she said. “They are so excited. It’s a great part of both of our days.”

Collegiate senior Liza Miller is in her second semester of participating in STAR. She appreciates her bond with the Middle Schoolers, even when she acts as disciplinarian to get them to finish their homework.

“I love the relationships with the kids,” she said. “They just need people to talk to, at the end of the day.”

Being involved in STAR, Mrs. Bowling says, is enlightening for the Collegiate students.

“Their eyes are opened up to the differences but also the same issues we all face as humans,” she said. “We often see people as different and ‘other’ when, in reality, we’re all just trying to have the same things in life and make the same connections and feel like we belong. That’s the beauty of the program.”

Liza encourages other Collegiate students to join the group and experience what STAR is all about.

“Give it a shot because these students are giving it a shot to come here every day,” she said. “They don’t have to come to this program, but they do and they are going to need help no matter what. We’re just trying to help them in any way we can. If that’s tying a shoe, we can do that. If that’s helping to write a physics paper, we can do that.”
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