The following article was originally published by The Press-Republican on Feb. 19, 2021.
PLATTSBURGH — CFES Brilliant Pathways helps shape the futures of young adults from around the globe.
College For Every Student has three core practices, including mentoring, essential skills, and college and career pathways.
Local students from sixth to ninth grade at schools here in the North Country reap the benefits of the program, and collegiate student-athletes have started to play a vital role in the process.
Various student-athletes from Plattsburgh State, Potsdam and Middlebury have all started participating in CFES and interacting with middle school students at Beekmantown, Moriah, Crown Point and Franklin Academy.
“What the student-athlete stands for in the middle school kids’ eyes is not mom or dad, and it’s not a parent figure or a teacher figure,” CFES GEAR UP Fellow Brett McClelland said.
“It’s this person older than them, but they are not intimidated by them. Student-athletes represent essential skills. They are the masters of the essential skills we teach. You have proven you can be on a team, show perseverance, agility, and balance college and athletics. When you are a student-athlete, student comes first. I think that was a big mind shift for students when they heard that.”
The essential skills CFES teaches include goal setting, teamwork, leadership, agility, perseverance and networking.
At a time when technology is upending traditional careers, CFES believes students need more than job skills to be ready for a changing future, and the essential skills are an intrinsic part of that process.
‘THE IMPACT THEY MAKE IS GREAT’
McClelland played men’s lacrosse at Plattsburgh State and then went on to serve as an assistant coach for five additional years with the program starting in 2014.
Now as he works with CFES, he sees great value in what student-athletes can bring to the program and is thankful for their dedication and commitment as volunteers.
“These are not student-athletes who were told by their coaches to do this,” McClelland said. “These are student-athletes who were asked if they wanted to do this and were reached out to. The leadership that I have seen from them and the impact they make is great.
When all is said and done, McClelland wants CFES to serve as a platform to tell kids they can do whatever they want and open their eyes to all the possibilities in life they may have not considered before.
The mentor program started off as an in-person tool, but once the COVID-19 pandemic hit the North Country last March, everything switched to virtual.
“CFES might be the best kept secret in the entire North Country, and it’s a global non-profit,” said Chris Mazzella, a longtime educator and CFES program director.
“It’s a two-way street. It’s a win-win situation for the kids, and it’s a win-win situation for the student-athletes who participate in this.”
When there were in-person interactions, McClelland said there was a great bank of games the student-athletes would use to interact with students that set a good example and good relationship.
When CFES shifted to a virtual model, the quality relationships remained the same with quick icebreaker activities that led to more in-depth conversations between the student-athlete mentors and students.
For Aislyn McDonough, a Northeastern Clinton alumna and current member of the Plattsburgh State women’s track and field team, serving as a mentor has been a rewarding process.
“From my perspective, I feel as though I gain just as much if not more than the students do through this program,” McDonough said. “It’s a constant reminder of the platform that comes with being a collegiate athlete and just how impactful we can be when we put it to good use.”
Icebreaker conversations between the student-athletes and students can be as simple as the mentor asking the student to describe how they are feeling by pulling up an Emoji.
As she works to complete her major in Childhood and Special Education, McDonough is honored to serve as a role model within the program and motivated by the way students look up to her.
“If I could have my students take anything away from the time we have spent together, it would have to be confidence,” McDonough said. “Confidence in their ability to make future plans and carry them out to the best of their ability, confidence in the work they produce inside and outside of the classroom, and confidence in how bright their futures will truly be despite the unpredictability that is guaranteed to come.”
Throughout life, everyone has a mentor, and Mazzella mentioned how the mentorship program leads to creative thinking.
“When we were talking and building this up, one of the questions we asked to the college kids when seeing if they were interested in the program was who was a significant mentor to them,” Mazzella said.
“Everyone has had a mentor, and these college kids see that and then think, ‘I can do that. I want to be like the person who helped me.’”
Through CFES’ partnerships with businesses, colleges and universities, the organization helps students find their passions and understand what it will take to turn them into careers.
Unearthing their passions is facilitated greatly with their mentors.
“I feel that being able to talk with someone you aspire to be like is very beneficial,” Beekmantown seventh-grader Shamus Bibeau said. “I believe that it can help you accomplish your goals. I think that we learn from people that we want to be like in the future in such an independent way.”
Lindsay Shanley, also a seventh-grader at Beekmantown and a CFES scholar, shared Bibeau’s sentiment.
She described her mentor as fun and relatable.
“When we get together on a Google Meet, we talk about what is happening with each of us, and we play fun games like which career would you rather do, and it helps us learn about different career options we have so we can have a better understanding of what we could do in our future,” Shanley said.
Both Shanley and Bibeau expressed interest in attending college and being a student-athlete.
“I feel that the CFES program will help me see the pros and cons of colleges that I wouldn’t even know about,” Bibeau said. “All in all, I think that this program has a good effect on my school.”
KEEPING IT GOING
CFES will hold a virtual mentoring summit Feb. 24, at 3 p.m., where various mentoring professionals will share how they are creating high-impact mentoring programs in these unprecedented times.
The pandemic threw curveballs at the way the program operated, but as CFES pushes on, McClelland said the program is as strong as it has ever been.
Whether it be a platform called “Athlete Hour” that McClelland developed, which showcased question-and-answer sessions with subjects such as Division I and III coaches as well as professional athletes who students were able to interact with, or other forms of virtual interaction, CFES continues to thrive even during these odd times.
“This started at one place when we were in person, and the final product is now something totally different, but it’s awesome,” McClelland said.
“It’s cool to see the student-athletes get something out of it because it’s more than just the middle school kids who look up to the student-athletes. These student-athletes get something great out of this, too, and it’s special.”
By Joey LaFranca | Twitter: @JoeyLaFranca