By Lindsay Emery
Tommy Rozgonyi is following in his brother’s footsteps by leading student mentorship program It’s Elementary – Giving Back to Where It All Started.
But with distanced learning amid COVID-19 restrictions, the program has had to adapt and become a fully virtual experience.
The Bedford Central School District program, now in its sixth year, provides guidance and friendship to children who need extra support as they navigate their way through the primary grades. The program pairs Fox Lane High School mentors with children in grades 2-5 at Mount Kisco Elementary School, and within the past two years, Bedford Hills Elementary School.
Despite the absence of in-person meetings, Rozgonyi adjusted many of the activities so that they could be completed in the young students’ homes. Games like scavenger hunts were altered so the children could find all the objects in their house instead of at school, he said.
“I think they need it more now than ever with the pandemic being especially hard on students,” Rozgonyi said. “A lot of them are fully remote and don’t go into school so they don’t have a lot of social interaction, so we provide a good deal of that for them.”
Since its inception, It’s Elementary has grown from seven students to more than 40 mentors and mentees. Rozgonyi said he and the other high school mentors plan the 30-minute sessions every month.
Mount Kisco Elementary School Assistant Principal Angelique Johnson ensures that everybody has the link for the Google Meet, since the students can’t gather on school grounds due to coronavirus restrictions.
Johnson, who has seen the program’s development, praised the commitment from the Rozgonyi family and the mission that they set out to accomplish from the outset.
“Because they had a vision for a mentor program, where the kids from high school could give back to Mount Kisco, and that’s still happening,” she said.
Johnson said the program is important because it provides a sense of pride to the students, noting an instance where an elementary school student expressed enthusiasm to reach high school so they could become a mentor one day.
“I can’t say enough about the high school students,” Johnson said. “They love working with our students and they’ve built some great relationships with them and they encourage them and they support them and I do guide them.”
The program’s framework allows for both the mentors and the younger children to determine what is needed at any given time, whether that be a fun activity or just someone to talk to.
Before the pandemic, the program developed connections through one-on-one time and interpersonal team building. Now, previous physical outlets like playing sports outside are replaced with traditional games with a twist, such as online charades.
However, Rozgonyi is optimistic the mentors will get to meet their mentees in the spring and gather outside with masks while socially distanced. He’s also hopeful of a future where in-person activities can resume without issue.
“Hopefully next year, we’ll be able to do all the fun things, like building gingerbread houses is one of the (activities) they loved,” Rozgonyi said.
Despite the challenges, Rozgonyi said It’s Elementary is filling a void that many students have been missing since last March.
“During the pandemic, I would say at least in my experience, it’s definitely much harder to get the social interaction that we used to have,” Rozgonyi said. “Because a lot of kids aren’t going into school when I go in, I don’t see many friends. So I’m sure the kids are feeling the same way, but it’s really nice to get the kids together to have some friends to talk to consistently after school.”