Austin Prep: Journey of the Heart
May 28, 2021
Cubby Cares Program Helps Connect Students During the Most Unique Year
By Mrs. Brenda Simblaris , Assistant Director of Admissions
It is no secret that this past year was extremely challenging and that negotiating a global pandemic required flexibility, patience, and grit on the part of Austin Prep students, families, faculty, and administrators. While social distancing was a prominent and reliable mitigation method to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it presented a unique challenge to students: when asked to stay apart, how do you create community, especially with students new to Austin Prep?
In early 2020, even before the coronavirus pandemic interrupted our lives as we knew it, one member of our community, Faith Moran '21, identified the need to assist new 6th graders as they transition to their new school community. At the time, not knowing what the coming year would bring, it was with great foresight that the Cubby Cares Mentoring Program was created.
The goal of the Cubby Cares Mentoring Program is to build supportive and cohesive relationships between Upper School and Middle School students. In the spirit of Unitas, this program assisted building community in the hallways of Austin Prep during a year where so little community engagement had been possible due to COVID restrictions and a hybrid learning schedule.
Assisting Faith in her efforts were TJ Brosnan '21, Ryan Noyes '21, Brianna Fountain '21, Arya Gupta '21, Arpi Sharma '21, and Sal Lococo '21. School Counselor Ms. Jessica Lenci, along with the Admissions Office, also provided support to our mentors throughout the year in an effort to handle any issue that our student mentors felt was out of their comfort zone. A total of 60 sophomore, junior and senior Green Key Ambassadors met in person, texted, FaceTimed, or Zoomed at a minimum of once a week, one-on-one with their 6th or 7th grade students (affectionately referred to as "Cubbies"), helping to provide them with support and guidance as they navigate the initial steps of their Austin Prep journey. Middle School students had an opportunity to seek out advice from their Upper School peers on topics such as academics, how to discover new interests, and friendship building. Meetings were held in Meelia Hall and coordinated by the Cubby Cares Student Leadership Team, featuring games and opportunities to sit and converse.
Simple conversations during a very quiet winter helped brighten the days of both our mentors and Cubbies. Ariana Clark '21 and her Cubby Katarina Burke '27 celebrated Valentine's Day in the Dining Hall. Sal connected with his Cubby, Quinn Stockman '27, through their love of sports through frequent texting. Just recently, Lily O’Neill '23 and her Cubby Molly Matthews '27 participated in the Spring Arts Showcase together. Lily stated that this is the perfect example of the type of bonds that are built through the program and that she is so excited to participate next year as well!
A goal for the 2021-2022 academic year is to expand the program to mentors leading not only 6th graders, but 9th graders as well. We hope to grow student engagement by having dedicated meeting times set out in advance of the beginning of the school year. Also for next year, Health and Wellness Counselor Mr. Nick Reynolds will be involved in collaborating with Admissions to ensure that the program runs smoothly, and additional mentor and leadership training will be provided for our 10th, 11th, and 12th Green Key Ambassadors program volunteers.
Part of growing personally and within our school community is relationship building and discovering academic and personal interests. Sharing your own Austin Prep Journey with a younger student or with a mentor can help achieve that, all while bringing us together, no matter what circumstances we may collectively endure. No journey was meant to be travelled alone. In the words of St. Augustine, “One loving heart sets another on fire.”