In the late 1980s, Tom Cash observed that students attending top quality, college preparatory high schools in their neighborhoods were more prepared to qualify for college admission and scholarships than those without the same advantages. He wanted to help worthy students gain that competitive edge, so he provided ten students in Jersey City with tuition assistance that would make it possible for them to attend St. Mary’s High School.

In the decades since then, Student/Partner Alliance has provided scholarships and mentoring to 2,250 students from low-income areas in northern New Jersey. In the last seven academic years they are proud to boast of a 100% high school graduation and college acceptance rate.

Student/Partner Alliance succeeds because the entire Board is invested in the mission as all Board Members mentor at least one student. The direct involvement that staff and Board Members have with the students enables them to have a more empathetic and connected understanding of the needs of S/PA students and results in the staff and Board constantly reevaluating how to best serve the students in our program. 

In 2021, S/PA accepted 50 new students into the program. These are a few of our new freshmen:

  • C is a freshman at Hudson Catholic. He lives with his mother and siblings in Jersey City. He is passionate about sports, loves playing board games with his family, and enjoys watching anime. He is a very bright student and is most proud of making honor roll various times and being on student council at his middle school. His mother’s income is about $39,000 a year. 
  • V is a freshman at Hudson Catholic. She lives with her father in Jersey City. She enjoys playing volleyball, watching movies, and spending time with friends. Her biggest accomplishment is moving to the United States and learning English very quickly. Her father’s annual income is about $20,000.
  • N is a freshman at St. Benedict’s Prep. He lives with his mother in Fort Lee. They have to watch the sunset together, take nature walks, and dance together. He is passionate about playing basketball and acting. His mother’s income came out to only $5,000 in 2020.
  • A is a freshman at St. Vincent Academy. She lives in Newark with her mother. They look forward going to New York City together and cooking new meals. Aaliyah loves reading in her free time and she is proud of how many books she has read. Her mother’s annual income is $37,000. 
  • K is a rising freshman at St. Vincent Academy. She lives in Newark with her mom and sister. She enjoys reading or watching Netflix in her spare time. She is most proud of getting accepted into a school like SVA and earning honor roll at her middle school. Her mother’s annual income is $22,000.  

These motivated, young students need a mentor more than ever to help them navigate the pandemic and post-pandemic world. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports 81% of Gen Z teens (ages 13–17) have experienced more intense stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. A supportive mentor during these years can help to make a difference in a young person’s life.

Research has shown that student with mentors are:

  • 52% less likely to skip a day of class
  • 46% less likely to start using illegal drugs
  • 93% of mentees try harder, improve their attitude about school, and benefit from an improved self- concept
  • 86% of students in the senior class move on to college 

Key competencies and preparedness helped navigate through the pandemic and beyond

S/PA has constantly adapted its programs over the course of the pandemic to ensure that its students’ needs were prioritized. The extensive financial expertise on the Board and Staff meant that S/PA was financially solid when the pandemic hit.  Then when the global pandemic arrived in New Jersey, the Board President, Emmett Daly, initiated an Emergency Fund to help those students whose families who most harshly impacted, loss of job and sickness were common.  In a few weeks, the Board and other S/PA friends raised over $100,000 in emergency funds that enabled over 50 students to remain in their school. 

New processes were put into place to address short term challenges throughout the pandemic:

  1. S/PA created a new on-line application process for incoming freshmen and held virtual interviews of the students and their parent/s.
  2. All in-person events were cancelled and the staff created new virtual events where mentors and mentees could get together in a meaningful way. 
  3. All staff were given lap-tops and a flexible work schedule was created that took into consideration the need for some staff to also monitor virtual schooling of their small children. 
  4. Staff and Board meetings utilized new technology, in particular Zoom. 

Adjusting to the long term ‘new normal’ 

Under the guidance of Emmett J. Daly, President of the Board, Thomas A. Cash, Chairman of the Board and Margaret Momber, Executive Director, the S/PA team continues to reassess the programs to meet the needs of the S/PA students and mentors with the hopes of going back in-person in the near-term.