The Jones-Zimmerman Academic Mentoring Program (J-Z AMP) is a hands-on mentoring program for Trinity students to work with middle school students at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA). Trinity College has hosted the J-Z AMP program since 2001. The program operates on a cohort basis, working with middle school students beginning in sixth grade and following them through eighth grade. The program typically facilitates a twice-a-week relationship with middle school students and college mentors for tutoring and personal development.

The J-Z AMP students received care packages over the summer.

This year marks the second year of the seventh cohort consisting of 25 middle school students. However, with the onset of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, both the HMTCA students and Trinity College students had to move their learning online.

Emmanuel Bernardo is one of the mentors for the program. When he applied to the J-Z AMP program, he knew he wanted a job not just to earn money, but to be a fulfilling use of his time while at Trinity. “Having worked as a summer camp counselor for many years, tutored middle to high school aged students, and been in a similar position to many of the kids in the program as a low-income first generation Latino student who had little to no guidance educationally, I felt the job would be a great fit for me as it went beyond employment by providing that sense of fulfillment in building a connection with the mentees and watching them grow as a result of our work together,” Bernardo said.

The students felt the support from their J-Z AMP friends at Trinity thanks to these deliveries.

The pandemic interrupted Bernardo and his fellow Trinity mentors’ work with the HMTCA students. Beatrice Alicea, assistant director of Trinity’s Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement, and her J-Z AMP Trinity student mentors had to get creative. Over the summer, Alicea prepared care packages for the HMTCA students and delivered them to their homes. The packages had activity books, beach balls, Rubik’s cubes, and more activities to keep the students engaged and feeling connected to the J-Z AMP community.

Alicea and the Trinity team are continuing that same creativity as they move into the new school year. They will meet with the HMTCA students via Zoom. For the middle school students, continuing the program keeps a sense of normalcy in what has been a difficult year. “For many mentees, the Trinity students bring a sense of consistency and stability,” Alicea said. “Many come from households where parents are serving many roles, even more so now during the pandemic. Parents are balancing jobs, managing the household, and now serving as teachers as some students continue distant learning. Parents are doing the best they can to provide their students attention, but that comes with a challenge with the increased responsibilities. This is where the mentors bring something consistent for the mentees to look forward to as they provide support to families.”

The two-to-one triangular mentoring model connects two middle-school students to one Trinity mentor. This year, instead of in-person meetings, they will use Zoom break-out rooms to join as a group for academic enrichments and life skill discussions, as well as interactive games. Alicea and the mentors will use activities that do not require more than basic materials and focus on academic enrichment and discussions about valuable life skills.

Normally, Trinity students work directly with HMTCA mentees. This year, they will be remote.

One of the activities the group uses is called “Rose, Bud, and Thorn.” “We aim to meet our students where they are to best meet their needs, and with ‘Rose, Bud, and Thorn,’ we share something positive that is happening (rose), something you are looking forward to (bud), and something that is making you uneasy (thorn),” said Alicea.

Bernardo finds helping students navigate difficult situations is rewarding. He knows this year will be no different. “I’m looking forward to seeing the growth my mentees will go through, seeing how they’ve improved since last year and how much they’ll improve this year. I’m always amazed at how some kids really handle adversity, and to help aid them in that pursuit is a blessing in my book,” he said.

Although they will miss out on the in-person interaction, Alicea knows that adapting to this new virtual model is just another way the J-Z AMP program can offer dynamic support to the students at HMTCA. “This program has been going for a while,” said Alicea, “and I think that speaks volumes about its effectiveness. We try to create opportunities and always reinvent ways to engage the students.” In a new virtual format, the nearly 20-year-old model crests a new horizon in the way it connects Trinity to the surrounding community.

The Jones-Zimmermann Academic Mentoring Program (J-Z AMP™) is a proven path for dramatically improving outcomes among academically at-risk students. Via strong partnerships between urban universities and public school districts, J-Z AMP™ provides free, structured, after-school academic tutoring, life skills coaching, and enrichment activities to middle school students for three years.