Over the years that the Project has been working in Hell’s Kitchen, we have seen some of the children who shine on stage, who write multiple character plays and memorize page upon page of dialogue, fail or be held back in school. Knowing their abilities and potential, we were motivated to try and make a difference in their academic performance. Smart Partners was developed on the belief that the adult/child relationships nurtured through our theater programs help develop a child’s sense of accountability for and dedication to his/her work. Smart Partners creates a similar one-on-one relationship for improved academic performance.
In 1997, Smart Partners was begun with a pilot program of ten students and ten adults. The program has proven so successful and popular that there are now over fifty pairs of Smart Partners. We quickly realized that we did not have the resources to match every child at the Project with a mentor who could commit to meeting weekly throughout the school year, nor could every child make such a promise. We therefore also created Homework Help, a program that has a rotating group of adults available for homework assistance after school on weekdays. Homework Help is a drop-in program that is available to all Project kids throughout the school year.
The Smart Partners and Homework Help programs are administered by Education Director Liz Bell, L.M.S.W., who supports the mentors and mentees, plans group events and workshops for the Smart Partners pairs, coordinates meeting schedules, tracks the progress of each child, and develops formal evaluation and follow-up procedures. She assists in the navigation of the New York City public school system and college preparation processes and establishes critical connections between home, school, and mentor.