Community Effort Lifts Middle School Program

South Hadley community leaders, school officials, parents, and students gathered at Mount Holyoke College on March 7 to celebrate and plan the next steps for a Leadership/Inclusion Initiative that teaches students at Michael E. Smith Middle School about respect, sharing, and teamwork.

Three years ago, Mount Holyoke and the Discovery Center joined forces with the middle school to launch the initiative, which helps fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grade students develop leadership skills and an understanding of the importance of equity, respect, and inclusion that is vital to eliminating bullying and preparing students for successful citizenship in a diverse world.

“This collaboration exemplifies the importance of community,” said MHC President Lynn Pasquerella. “Each organization and institution in this endeavor is strengthened by our shared commitment to community and the knowledge that South Hadley can play a leadership role in demonstrating best practices in civic engagement."

The program comprises workshops conducted by Discovery Center facilitators with teachers and students at the middle school and training for Mount Holyoke College students, who serve as mentors. More than a dozen MHC students, under the supervision of psychology and education professor Lenore Reilly, participate each year in the program as mentors both for academic and after-school activities.

Joining Pasquerella in speaking at the event were Michael E. Smith Middle School principal Erica Faginski-Stark and student Daniel Conway, MHC mentor Gwen Coiley ’13, Discovery Center executive director Allan Wilson and director of development Eunice Bragg, and Newman’s Own managing director Lisa Walker.

"This initiative represents part of our commitment at both the middle school and in the South Hadley schools to educate all of our students to succeed in a world where rapid change is part of the everyday landscape," said Faginski-Stark.

Key to the initiative is the Discovery Center, a nonprofit founded by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward to shape positive attitudes about race and difference and to improve academic skills for public school students. The Discovery Center serves more than 3,500 students and teachers each year in Connecticut and western Massachusetts.

Support for the Discovery Center comes primarily through the Newman's Own Foundation.

Local support and funding for the program comes from Easthampton Savings Bank, Chicopee Savings Bank, Peoples Bank, and Mount Holyoke College. Kay Sordillo of Easthampton Savings Bank coordinated the support of the local banks.

Pictured at right are Lisa Walker, Daniel Conway, Erica Faginski-Stark, Gwen Coiley, and Lynn Pasquerella.