“All students, no matter who they are, can always use someone to talk to,” said Samantha Kahn, a social worker at Woodland Middle School in East Meadow. “Some extra support.”
Kahn and other social workers from 11 Nassau County schools choose the students in grades six through eight who will take part in the Nassau County Bar Association Student Mentor Program.
For 26 years, the Bar Association has mentored students in the late-elementary and middle school levels at Woodland and Clarke middle schools in East Meadow; Great Neck North and South middle schools; Schultz Middle School in Hempstead; Jackson Main and Barack Obama elementary schools in Hempstead; Jericho Middle School; Turtle Hook Middle School in Uniondale; Grand Avenue Elementary School in Uniondale; and Westbury Middle School.
Twice a month, each participating attorney heads to a school in the morning and chats with a student for roughly 30 minutes. The goal is to establish a rapport between mentor and student, to motivate the student to set positive goals and work toward them.
Alan Hodish, an East Meadow resident and a personal injury, criminal law and education law attorney, is the man behind the idea. He taught for 20 years at Jackson Main and Ludlum Elementary School, which is now Barack Obama.
After he transitioned to being an attorney, he reached out to the association to see if it would be open to starting a mentor program.
“It has nothing to do with math, science, the subjects,” said Hodish. “It’s just connecting with an adult —non-judgmentally —and the conversation can be about anything they want.”
The schools usually reach out to the Bar Association and say they want to participate. The association then recruits lawyers in the school’s area to be involved in the program. Hodish said that roughly 90 attorneys, judges and other people from the association are involved.
Between eight and 15 students participate in the program, depending on the school district. The school’s guidance counselors or social workers are responsible for choosing which students would be best served by the program.
“The program has definitely been successful for our students,” Kahn said. “On Fridays before the weekend it’s nice to just get everyone in the right mindset after a long week, and having a trusted adult for these students to talk to is always great.”
The mentor program is growing, with Grand Avenue becoming the most recent addition last year.
Josh Brookstein, a partner with Sahn Ward Braff Koblenz PLLC, has been a part of the mentor program for roughly eight years. He now is the coordinator for the Uniondale schools mentor program.
“It’s such an amazing program, and youngsters are just so amazing,” Brookstein said. “You’re just there to be a consistent positive role model and to share your story.”
For Ted Rosenthal, an attorney from East Meadow, participating in this program was one of the best things he could have done.
“You sit down, you talk to people, and you don’t even know you’re having an effect,” Rosenthal said. “You don’t even know the background of these children, and I don’t look at my job as prying, it’s just to have a conversation that gives them an opportunity to talk freely, no judgment, just conversation.”
Rosenthal recalled running into someone two months ago in a parking lot. The person asked him if he was Ted Rosenthal, and explained that he had been his mentor years back.
“You really don’t know if you’re having an effect,” Rosenthal said. “But I like to think if he recognized me, that sitting and talking to him for a little bit and giving him my time was worth it.”
The culmination of the program is a big luncheon, taking place this year on May 25. All of the mentees from the schools meet at Domus, an area within the association’s headquarters in Mineola that has conference rooms and a fine restaurant.