Taking STEPS for MD POC students

Natalie Sweet, Staff Writer

This Friday marks the kick-off of the second year of Deveraux Mackey’s (12) project called Students Together Empowering People of Color Successfully, otherwise known as STEPS.

STEPS is a minority mentor program that pairs Middle Division (MD) students with an Upper Division (UD) mentor, as well as pairing POC families together. Mackey started the program two years ago with the funds she received from winning the Alexander Capelluto grant, but the process of planning started before she won the grant, Mackey said.

During the kick-off, all students in the program and their families will meet with their mentors for the first time, Mackey said.

According to Identity, Culture & Institutional Equity Office Associate Sharina Gordon, who is a faculty advisor of STEPS, there will be some activities and then breakout rooms for each constituent group will occur.

“I’m looking forward to meeting the parents and getting to know their families and learning more about the mentees to connect with them and foster positive relationships,” STEPS mentor Jessica Thomas (11) said.

“At a school orientation event, a parent stopped me and asked if her daughter, who is a person of color, would be okay at Horace Mann socially and academically,” Mackey said.

According to Mackey, after that encounter, she realized that it was important to her that middle schoolers who identify as people of color have an older student in the school that they can talk to. She felt that this was especially important to her, since she used to be a middle school student at the school herself, she said.

Gordon shares Mackey’s vision, she said.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure and joy to be one of the program advisors for STEPS,” Gordon said. “The student leaders have been phenomenal to work with and it’s just a pleasure to help guide the growth of this important program.”

MD history teacher Ronald Taylor, also a faculty advisor for STEPS, shares great enthusiasm for the program, he said. “Many of these programs were absent for me as a black boy in majority white schools, so I am enthralled to have Deveraux’s trust to help build this initiative,” he said.

STEPS mentor Yasmin McLamb (12) describes STEPS as a “judgement-free zone where students can talk about the multidimensional students of color that we are and grow together as a family,” she said.

At the beginning of the school year, a sign-up form is sent to the MD, to see which students and families would like to be involved with STEPS. No one is turned away, but there is a waitlist because the program has doubled in size since last year, Mackey said.

For UD students who are interested in becoming mentors, an application is sent out around the end of the school year for the following year. According to Mackey, the application is mostly to get to know the applicants, including questions regarding interests, extracurriculars, and when the student came to the school. Approval from the applicant’s dean is required as well.

STEPS mentors and middle schoolers meet once or twice a month in a large group setting,to discuss the school events going on at the time.

“Whether it’s trimester testing or bar and bat mitzvah parties, there’s a balance between time spent academically and time spent socializing, which is something you have to be equipped to handle as a middle schooler,” Mackey said.

However, there are other aspects of STEPS aside from the monthly group meetings. For example, UD parents who identify as people of color are paired up with new families who also identify as people of color. These families meet about three times per year to give advice to families new to the school and answer questions, Mackey said.

Another aspect of the STEPS program is the individual meetings between a high school mentor and their middle school mentee. According to Mackey, the goal of these meetings is to foster one on one relationships where an MD student can share a question or concern that they might not feel comfortable sharing in a large group. Mentors meet with their mentees approximately once a month, Mackey said.

Thomas has learned so much from the students by hearing about middle school through their perspectives, she said.

“It’s nice to step back from our stressful lives into this environment where both you and them feel safe and are free to be yourself,” Thomas said.

STEPS is now included in resources that the school has to offer for students and their families, Mackey said. The STEPS logo features two people building a bridge, which symbolizes the relationship between the families and their mentor.

“This is my passion project,” Mackey said. “It is a very personal program that means a lot to me.”