Annual STEPS carnival unites UD and MD students of color

Students Together Empowering People of Color Successfully (STEPS) hosted their annual end-of-the-year carnival on Four Acres last Friday. The carnival featured a photo booth, arcade games, basketball hoops, ping pong, and a car racing game.

The STEPS program is composed of high school mentors and middle school mentees, Ashley Coburn (10) said. The mentors plan activities for their monthly meetings and weekly talks with their mentees, she said. “We are split up into grades — sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade — and [we] play games with the mentees, we talk about their lives, and we do cultural things,” she said. “We try to support them in any way they need us, so if they want advice, we try to give it to them.” 

The carnival was an exciting way for the STEPS mentors and mentees to reconnect one last time before the school year ends, Coburn said. “It’s fun for the mentees, and it’s fun, as a student leader, to see the sixth graders that I started with at the beginning of the year and how much they’ve grown physically and how much they’ve changed over the course of the year.” 

When organizing the event, Co-Directors of STEPS Ashley Michel and Reyenelle Jimenez wanted to connect kids from both the Lower Division (LD) and Upper/Middle Division STEPS programs, Michel said. “The Carnival is to create a space for students of color in the school to be together, to feel uplifted, to feel a sense of community, to invite their parents [to] be closer to the community as a whole, and to just help all of the students of color to feel like Horace Mann is their home and a place where they are seen and celebrated and valued.”

“STEPS has expanded into the Lower Division, but because our school is so big and our schedules are so different across divisions — it is no easy feat to gather all of the STEPS community together to celebrate and connect,” Jimenez said. “The STEPS Carnival is a significant event because it is the only event that we hosted this year where our students of color in Lower, Middle, and Upper can hang out and play together.”

This year, STEPS was able to host more guests, Michel said. “The carnival was on Four Acres rather than the Grasshopper in the Lower Division,” she said. “Also, we had a return to inviting parents and families, so that was nice to see just an extended STEPS community.” 

“The carnival is a good way for the STEPS community to come together, meet new people, and prepare for the next school year,” Coburn said. The activities at the event help to bring the community together, Coburn said. “I remember last year at the STEPS carnival I met one of the fifth graders, who then became our sixth grade mentee, and we raced together. He was very competitive, and I saw him this fall, and I was like ‘Oh my god I know this kid.’”

“STEPS is such an important part of students of color’s lives here at Horace Mann, being the fact that it’s a predominantly white institution,” Jiya Chatterjee (11)  said. “It’s really nice that at the end of the year, we get to come together as a community and enjoy the fact that we get to have this space.”

The carnival also helps to bring new members into the STEPS program, Chatterjee said. “Not necessarily everybody gets to know about STEPS until they see this big carnival, and it’s a great way to introduce the club to the school community.”