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The Return of Mentoring: Prioritizing Relationships in this Long Island Middle School

Uncertainty was at an all-time high in December 2020 when Cindy Perez started as a social worker at Dodd Middle School in Freeport, NY. Schools were still remote and scrambling to figure out how to bring young people back to in-person learning. No one knew when things would return to the new normal, Cindy included. One thing she did know: it was critical to bring back and revamp Dodd’s mentoring program.

Why Mentoring Matters For Dodd

The more Cindy heard from teachers about how much students were struggling, the more she saw a need for mentoring. Whether it came to lack of attendance or completing schoolwork, she knew that stronger relationships between the adults in the school and students would ensure each young person was seen and heard. Those relationships would be the pipeline for increasing attendance rates, understanding home-life situations, and discovering the best ways to support students.

Another troubling thought: the incoming class of students didn’t have any connection to the building or teachers at the middle school.

The mentoring program Dodd had hosted in past years had been tremendously impactful. But after a year without the program, Cindy now grappled with how to start it up again.

Starting Fresh & Rebuilding Structures

Cindy knew that Dodd had started a thriving mentoring program in 2019, but between the school’s former social worker retiring and the challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the program hadn’t been active for over a year. Knowing she was starting from the ground up, she reached out to MENTOR New York, with who the previous mentoring program had partnered with, for support and consultation in the past.

"When I first connected with Cindy, it was clear that she was ready to reinvigorate and strengthen the mentoring initiative at Dodd Middle School,” said Joie Golomb, MENTOR New York’s Director of Programs and Partnership Development. “I was excited to work with her. This is what MENTOR New York does best: partnering with professionals like Cindy to share our expertise in building quality, sustainable mentoring programs and relationships.”

Through their consultations, they discussed topics including how to structure programming, how to get started, building quality mentoring relationships, creating sustainability, and more. She connected Cindy with resources and forms that could be readjusted for her program. A key focus was on “the basics” of building a program to ensure Dodd’s mentoring program would have a strong foundation moving forward.

“There are a lot of resources, and sometimes I take facts or data from the [MENTOR New York's] website and send it out to the mentors monthly just to say ‘hey, look, statistics show this and this is why you're doing what you're doing. I think it even has sections on there like guiding the program, what to do during remote, how to mentor while the pandemic is going on. So that was very helpful. That was one of the main reasons I think why it just helped us transition and MENTOR New York was the most appropriate agency to work with,” said Cindy.

Joie and Cindy continue to collaborate and brainstorm how to best engage the mentors and mentees. Joie even partnered with Cindy around training to help prepare Dodd’s 33 mentors to be most effective in building their relationships with students.

Mentor & their mentees from Dodd Middle School Mentoring Program

"Throughout my time being involved in the mentoring program, I've changed my perspective

of what mentoring means. I used to think mentoring was just about meeting with your mentee and talking about your day, but I have learned that mentoring is about building relationships and building trust with your mentees. Mentoring means that I can influence someone's life positively. Mentoring means that I can provide safety and stability to my mentee; something that many mentees do not have in their everyday environment. Mentoring has made a difference in my life and I hope I am making a difference in my mentee's life as well," said Erika Argueta Marquez, a mentor and social studies teach at Dodd Middle School.

A Bright Future Ahead for Mentoring at Dodd

Through guidance, resources, and the structure MENTOR New York provided to Cindy and her mentors at Dodd Middle School through consultation, their program launched in 2021 and will continue forward into next year.

“I think this was almost like a training year. It was the first time, so we got to see what mistakes were made and get the hard part done. This was like the basics,” said Cindy. “What monthly forms are going to be used? How do we engage mentors? How do we get the students matched? So it was kind of like trial and error, and we got to learn from our mistakes and use MENTOR New York as an outside resource to brainstorm and come up with solutions.”

Moving forward, Cindy wants to focus on creating more extracurricular activities for the mentors and mentees to bond together, like a meet and greet breakfast at the start of the school year to build connections and set goals for the year. With a firm footing back in the school, the Dodd Middle School mentoring program is once again a valuable support structure and place a joy for students.

Are you rebuilding your mentoring program? Starting a new program? Contact Joie Golomb at for information about partnering with MENTOR New York for consultation.

About Cindy Perez

Cindy Perez graduated from Uniondale High School with the goal of one day becoming a school social worker. Growing up, she always felt like there was so much work to be done with the students in her community but not many resources. She wanted to be a part of the change. As a first-generation college graduate, she received her Bachelors of Social Work at Molloy College and Masters of Social Work at Fordham University. As a young mother, it was always her goal to show her son that nothing is impossible. Her internship at Nassau County Juvenile Center exposed her to children in the court system that needed additional support. This led her to her career in 2018, when she was hired at North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center as a clinical therapist located at BOCES CCA High School. There she was able to provide support to high-risk students through individual therapy, family therapy, and group counseling. In late 2020, She began working for the Freeport School District at John W. Dodd Middle School, as a bilingual school social worker. She strives to be a part of the change in her community and bring in support systems that ensure the success of the students.

About John W. Dodd Middle School

John W. Dodd Middle School houses all of the 7th and 8th grade students from the Freeport community. The mission of John W. Dodd Middle School is to provide a challenging academic curriculum for our diverse student population in a caring and moral atmosphere. Dodd is committed to building the skills necessary for high academic achievement with all of our students in order to foster a community of lifelong learners. This is accomplished in a safe environment that addresses the intellectual, social, emotional and physical needs of our students. Parents and community members are encouraged to partner in the educational process and assist in the development of productive and responsible citizens who will contribute to our changing global society.


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