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CC students from New London, Brooklyn receive prestigious award for after-school program for sixth-graders

May 04, 2004
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For immediate release - May 4, 2004
Contact: Eric Cárdenas (860) 439-2508; ecard@conncoll.edu

NEW LONDON, Conn. - Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Alexandria Gomes was not allowed to go outside her apartment building when she got home from school. There just were no positive, safe places to go.

At the same time, across Long Island Sound to the north, Tiana Davis was learning about responsibility for others as one of nine children in New London, Conn.

Today, as seniors at Connecticut College in New London, both Davis and Gomes have taken what they learned from backgrounds in challenged, single parent, low-income families and built an after-school program for sixth graders that addresses the students´ personal, professional and educational needs.

The program has been so successful that Campus Compact recently awarded Davis and Gomes one of five prestigious national awards for public service.

Davis and Gomes received the Howard R. Swearer Student Humanitarian Award for designing and coordinating Project ABC, Advocating Brighter Choices, an innovative after school program for sixth graders at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London. The award includes a grant of $1,500 to help strengthen and sustain the project.

Campus Compact is a coalition of more than 900 college and university presidents committed to the civic purposes of higher education.

Gomes and Davis structured Project ABC with four goals in mind: to provide students with a safe place to do homework; to reintroduce the importance of education; to teach citizenship; and to act as a model for other after-school programs. In the program, Connecticut College students volunteer as mentors for 15 sixth graders and meet with them three days a week, three hours per day, both at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London and on the Connecticut College campus. Gomes and Davis worked with the College´s Holleran Center and Office of Volunteers for Community Service (OVCS) to orchestrate the resources to develop and sustain the program. Project ABC is now integrated into OVCS´s set of mentor programs.

"The program was created to address the multitude of obstacles within participants´ lives, whether it be personal, academic or community issues," Gomes said. "We wanted to strengthen the connection between Connecticut College students and campus life with the New London community and wanted to create a program that helped to bridge any gaps."

Davis added that "our society can no longer afford the social costs associated with not cultivating and supporting the talent and intellect that often goes undetected or ignored within certain excluded communities." The overall mission of the program, according to Davis and Gomes, is to decrease drop out rates and provide students with enhanced educational and professional resources. In addition, participants learn about higher education and get excited about the possibility of attending college.

The development and implementation work of the program provided the focus for both Gomes´ and Davis´ senior honors thesis. Gomes is majoring in sociology with an economics minor, and Davis is double majoring in human relations and government.

The evaluations of the program from the participants´ teachers and guidance counselors have been extremely positive.

"The students have really enjoyed the group and count on meeting regularly," said Robert Clark, head guidance counselor at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. "The youth come by my office each day asking if Project ABC is meeting today and why it meets only three days a week instead of every day."

Gomes and Davis have also seen positive outcomes in the students, ranging from better grades, improved behavior and less time spent in detention.

Norman Fainstein, president of Connecticut College, said Davis and Gomes not only serve as role models for other youth but have worked for systemic change as well.

"Their commitment grows out of their personal experiences and achievements," Fainstein said. "They demonstrate exceptional vision, maturity and leadership skills."

In addition to coordinating Project ABC, both students have been active throughout their college careers and both were selected as Program in Community Action Scholars for the College´s Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy.

Currently, Davis is a grant-writing assistant at Area Health Education Center in Norwich and a program assistant at the New London Housing Authority. She is active in Umoja, a Connecticut College student organization that serves as a support group for students of African descent and those interested in multicultural issues, and is a big sister in the ALANA Big Sister/Big Brother program. She´s also active in the Special Olympics of Southeastern Connecticut, the American Red Cross and the Women´s Shelter of Southeastern Connecticut.

At the College´s honors and award ceremony last month, Davis received the Anna Lord Strauss Medal, the College´s highest honor for community service. She also won the Louise Holborn Prize for excellence in government and was co-awarded the Ruby Jo Reeves Kennedy Memorial Award for excellence in sociology.

Gomes spent a summer as a fellow at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and International Affairs at the University of Michigan. She completed internships with the Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut, Moody´s Investors Service and the New York Women´s Foundation.

Gomes hopes to open a non-profit organization focused on helping single mothers and their children and eventually earn a master´s degree in public policy. Davis will attend law school at the University of Connecticut in the fall.

Both plan to serve as consultants for the program so that it may continue at Connecticut College for future years. They plan to spend their summer writing a handbook, policy and curricula to guide future program directors. Campus Compact´s Swearer award is named for Howard R. Swearer, the 15th president of Brown University and a founder of Campus Compact. Throughout his career as an educator, Swearer believed universities should be communities of compassionate people involved in serious intellectual pursuits but never divorced from the realities of their communities.

The annual award recognizes those students who have participated in outstanding public service and who have created innovative approaches to a social, educational, environmental, health, economic or legal issue within a community. Gomes and Davis will receive the award in Orlando, Fla., in July.

Ranked among the most selective private liberal arts colleges in the nation, Connecticut College has an enrollment of 1,850 men and women from 45 states, the District of Columbia, and 35 countries. The college is particularly known for interdisciplinary studies, innovative international programs, paid internships, a wide range of student-faculty research opportunities and service learning. Founded in 1911, the college operates under an 82-year-old honor code and has no Greek system. The scenic 750-acre campus is managed as an arboretum and overlooks Long Island Sound. For more information, see www.conncoll.edu. Connecticut College is located at 270 Mohegan Ave., New London.