Students helping students – RIC/HBS Mentors program

Mentor Island, in the HBS library.
Six years ago, Henry Barnard School, the laboratory school on the RIC campus, created a program for college students to mentor their younger counterparts.

This year marks the first that the program, called RIC/HBSMentors, has been recognized as a student organization by RIC’s Student Community Government Inc.

When the mentor program began there were six college student mentors and six HBS student mentees. That number has since grown to 40 RIC students and 44 HBS students.

The program aims to benefit children who need it most, particularly young students with social or emotional issues, said Haven Starr, HBS assistant principal.

“Essentially the idea was for children to feel like they were important, that someone was listening,” said Starr.

Starr went on to mention that the efficacy of the mentor program has been noticeable since its inception, with fewer students coming to his office with problems.

Before the program began, he said, there would be three to eight children that would be in his office for disciplinary reasons on a weekly basis. The issues they had weren’t big problems, but they were constant.

“As the program has kicked in, we’ve had fewer and fewer children come down here,” said Starr.

Danielle Patti, left, and Maya.
Danielle Patti, RIC junior and the president of the RIC/HBS Mentors, recently received an Excellence in Mentoring award at “Be the Change Night,” hosted by the R.I. Mentoring Partnership. She has been a mentor for HBS student Maya, since joining the program three years ago.

Patti said that Maya, who loves to read, wouldn't talk to her for a month after they met. "I kept coming and she'd read her book and I would just sit there and try to talk to her. One day, I made a bargain with her: she could read her book for a half-hour and then talk to me for a little bit."

After awhile, said Patti, she and Maya began to build a friendship.

“When I used to go get her at recess she used to be sitting by herself just reading and now she’ll be socializing and playing with kids,” said Patti. “It’s a really big improvement in these kids' lives, just coming for the half-hour a week or whatever you can give."

College students in the program dedicate a minimum of a half-hour a week to mentoring, most of which is done in Mentor Island, a space in the HBS library where kids can play games, enjoy activities, and spend time with their mentors.

RIC junior Kristin Apuzzo has been mentoring Michael since she learned about the program from a friend last fall. She and Michael have one-on-one time together during lunch, then play games together in the library. She said her mentoring sessions bring out the inner child in her and have been a rewarding experience.

Kristin Apuzzo and Michael.
Some students give more time than the half-hour minimum each week, said Patti. One mentor, sophomore Marc Antaya, spends time nearly every day with his fifth-grade mentee Max.

To become a mentor, students must complete two orientation sessions at HBS to learn the rules about the school and the mentoring program. The students then fill out a questionnaire, which requests background information so that Julie Richardson, the school’s guidance counselor and Laurie Parkerson, the school’s librarian, can match them with a mentee.

Both HBS principal Lou Lloyd-Zannini and Starr attribute the program’s rapid success to the efforts of Richardson and Parkerson, who work to keep the program functioning smoothly for mentors, mentees and the administration.

Martha Roberts, associate professor at HBS, said that students spent a cumulative 500 hours working as mentors last semester.

Roberts is a fourth grade teacher in HBS and helps to plan and implement HBS events for students. She is credited with the initial idea for RIC/HBS Mentors and has been working towards making it sustainable for the future.

Many new students have joined the program this year. Of the 40 RIC students that mentor on a regular basis, 30 are new.

“The aspect that I like best about the program is what it does for the kids,” said Lloyd-Zannini. “To see them interact with the older role models who can listen to them and still understand them. They establish bonds.”

“It changes kids lives, it means a lot to them,” said Patti.

For more information on the RIC/HBS Mentors, call (401) 456-8097 or email