A couple of years ago, an idea was born at Washington University. Finally, after Covid-19 delays, students were able to put their plan into action this past semester. And it comes with serious benefits for Miriam students!
Friends United Network (FUN) is a partnership between Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis and Miriam School. Jackie Levey, Hillel director, said two students approached her about a mentorship program with young students who have unique learning needs. They explored existing mentorship programs at WashU, but they were unable to find one that worked with that particular demographic.
Levey, whose son Asher is in seventh grade at Miriam, connected the students with Mary Cognata, head of Miriam’s K-8 program. “We both knew that WashU students had the potential to make a lasting and positive difference in the lives of Miriam students,” Levey said.
“When Asher was younger, he benefited tremendously from relationships with a few college students with whom he could connect, learn from and look up to,” she said. “When I learned of Shayna’s interest in giving back to the community in this way, and her interest in mentoring neurodiverse students, I was thrilled that Hillel could help make this connection and provide other Miriam students with the same kind of support and mentorship that Asher received.”
This year, the WashU students are working specifically with Miriam students in grades 2-4 every other Friday. This is serving as a pilot for FUN, and they plan to broaden their scope as the program moves forward. Levey said she hopes that as the program grows, they will be able to invite all Miriam students/families to participate. She also looks forward to more WashU students having the opportunity to serve in this type of mentorship role, learning from Miriam students, and thus increasing awareness, empathy and advocacy for individuals with special needs.
Shayna, one of the founding members of FUN, said, “This experience has been particularly meaningful to me, because it gives us an opportunity to form lasting relationships with Miriam students, celebrate each other’s differences, and learn to advocate for the needs of others.”