Pictured at today's announcement of the Big Eagle Little Eagle program are, from left, Niagara University student Simone Beckford; the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., NU president; NU students Eric Rigg, Caton Charleston, Latricia Agee and Taundrea Ross; Mark R. Laurrie, superintendent of Niagara Falls City Schools; NU student Ferrah Staley; and Dr. Debra Colley, Niagara University's executive vice president.

The first week of school brings with it many things. For Niagara University and Niagara Falls High School, the 2016-2017 academic year will begin with a new mentorship program.

Announced today, the Big Eagle Little Eagle program will assist Niagara Falls High School students in preparing to make the transition to college, through mentorship from Niagara University students. This guidance will occur through social interactions and both active and passive activities aimed to have a positive impact on all participants.

Specifically, Niagara University students will mentor Niagara Falls High School students to help them develop communication skills, team-building, research and debating techniques, college- and career-readiness skills, prepare for the SAT and ACT, and advocate for positive social change.

“This new initiative, which builds upon our longstanding partnership with the Niagara Falls City School District, is borne out of our university’s Catholic and Vincentian mission to build bridges from the community to our campus,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, where classes begin today. “We know that providing a means to outstanding education makes a measurable impact on communities living in poverty, and we endeavor to be that conduit that improves the lives of our neighbors in Niagara Falls.”

A Niagara Falls High School outcomes report shows that approximately 75 percent of its students plan to continue on to two- or four-year colleges. Classes commence at Niagara Falls High School tomorrow.

“We always welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with Niagara University, as we do in so many ways,” said Mark R. Laurrie, superintendent of Niagara Falls City Schools. “We know our students will benefit from this unique program, and I am sure Niagara University’s students will benefit as well – this is the type of initiative we must have as we leverage the educational continuum in Niagara Falls.  This experience will help empower our high school students to be successful,  both in completing their high school education and in planning for college and careers that address workforce needs in the 21st century.”

A “beta” version of the mentoring program launched this summer, with Niagara University student-mentors assisting with NU’s Early College/Smart Scholars Camp.

For the fall and spring semesters, under the direction of Averl Harbin, director of multicultural affairs, Big Eagle Little Eagle will enlist a Niagara University faculty member to work with the mentors and provide research on the program. An NU graduate student will oversee the mentoring program, coordinate scheduled events and supervise 15-20 mentors involved in weekly mentoring activities, which will include a minimum of two hours per week of one-on-one contact with each mentee.

Transportation for the student-mentors will be provided by Niagara University’s Learn and Serve Office and from the Niagara Falls school district.

A number of Niagara University students, including graduate student Eric Rigg, have been intricately involved in the establishment and development of the Big Eagle Little Eagle program. Rigg said that he and his peers consider it the university’s responsibility to create opportunities for growth, leadership and development for the next generation.

“We have immediate need in our local area to truly make the most impact, starting with youth who may slip through the cracks,” said Rigg, a 2016 NU graduate who is pursuing a an MBAfrom Niagara. “Providing young students with hope and confidence will make a major impact on their lives, and with college students serving as mentors, the possibility of actually going to college may become an attainable reality.”

Earlier this summer, Niagara University and the Niagara Falls City School District formalized their longstanding partnership by signing a memorandum of understanding.

Through its Institute of Applied Learning, Niagara University’s College of Education has collaborated with Niagara Falls city schools on many initiatives, including a National Grid-sponsored program to train teachers and students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as the Help Me Grow and Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project programs, which benefit the city’s youngest learners.

The partnership between Niagara University and the Niagara Falls City School District was recognized with the Model of Excellence Award from the Association of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges for Teacher Education in February.

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