Great Article about Young People Making a Difference in the World

I have written before about my daughter, Deirdre (on left) leading her second Habitat Bicycle Challenge bike ride across the country this summer to raise money and awareness for Habitat for Humanity. At the risk of parading a bit of parental pride, I have reprinted an article that appeared in Deirdre's high school alumni magazine Sewickley Speaking about what she and her friends did last summer.

“Returning to Sewickley Academy to teach at Summerbridge Pittsburgh was an invaluable experience for me. I learned what it means to be a leader in and outside of the classroom and about how difficult and rewarding leadership can be. I learned the value of optimism, energy, and dedication, and to apply these values to everything that I do. Perhaps most of all, I learned about the value of education and the feeling of making a difference in someone else’s life — a difference that can potentially affect their future in a substantial and positive way.”
Deirdre Cerminaro ‘02, Summerbridge Pittsburgh 2005 Teacher

Where does a Yale undergraduate who has biked across the nation in support of Habitat for Humanity, researched the brain functions of primates, and been named an All-American lacrosse player in high school go to seek her next challenge? For Deirdre Cerminaro’02, the answer was easy: return to her alma mater to work as a teacher for Summerbridge Pittsburgh.

This past summer, Cerminaro decided to join the Summerbridge faculty to get a first-hand look at the “invaluable” impact of the Summerbridge experience. Summerbridge, which was established at Sewickley Academy in 1994 by then Headmaster Ham Clark, works to empower Pittsburgh’s at-risk youth and inspire exceptional high school and college-aged students to pursue careers in education.

Cerminaro joined twenty-three other college students from across the nation in their mission to provide Summerbridge students with the theoretical and practical skills they need to manage the journey through adolescence and, ultimately, to lead healthy, productive lives. Cerminaro’s role as an eighth-grade Wellness teacher was a vital part of reaching that goal. Drawing on her experiences as an athlete and peer counselor at Yale, Cerminaro taught her students the importance of a healthy lifestyle through lessons on stress management, diet, and conflict resolution.

From curriculum design and student assessment to acting in skits and counseling students, Cerminaro dedicated her energy and passion to help students
improve their academic skills and learn how to make healthy choices.

“The middle school years are a turning point for young people,” observes Cerminaro. “As young teachers we can still relate to the issues facing our students, and the lessons I taught in Wellness helped our students make good choices.”

Not only did Cerminaro teach every day, she also honed her leadership skills as a team leader. Team leaders are the most accomplished members of the Summerbridge staff and are responsible for overseeing the academic, behavioral, and extracurricular activities on each “team” of twenty students. As a team leader, Cerminaro hosted All School Meeting, the daily, spirit-fi lled gathering of all Summerbridge students, staff, and faculty and planned Eighth-Grade Field Day, a day of athletic and intellectual games that culminates in a pizza and dance party. Cerminaro also served as the Head of the Wellness Department.

If that sounds like a lot of responsibility for any college student to take on, that’s because it is. Indeed, the Summerbridge experience requires such dedication, passion, and intellectual energy that the Princeton Review has recognized it as one of the top ten internships in the nation, a ranking that places it in good company alongside the White House and The Supreme Court.

Reflecting on her experience as a teacher in the program, Cerminaro expressed a sentiment echoed by many other Summerbridge teachers: the knowledge and life perspective she took away from the program must have been as great, if not greater, than that which she passed on to her students.

She explains: “I learned very quickly this summer that my students were depending on me, which required me to equally give my all to every lesson and event that I planned in order not to let them down. I learned about what my students faced every day, which in some ways exactly paralleled my middle school life but in other ways were obstacles that I couldn’t have imagined facing as an eighth-grade student.”

Cerminaro’s observations certainly ring true. As Summerbridge Director Kevin Brezler reports, “We work with students facing a number of significant life challenges. Many of our students live in single-parent households, grow up in neighborhoods plagued by violence and drug abuse, and lack college-educated mentors to help them navigate the path to academic success.” The impact that such circumstances can have on a child’s life is significant. Recent studies indicate that only 59% of young people with backgrounds similar to Summerbridge students graduate high school. Less than half of those same students enroll in college.

Summerbridge, however, has experienced far greater success in helping students with limited opportunities reach their academic goals. Ninetytwo percent of Summerbridge students graduate from high school and 80% of them go on to college. Summerbridge has been successful in reversing this trend because of the contributions of highly motivated and passionate high school and college students. “The unique students-teaching-students model of Summerbridge Pittsburgh is truly the key to our success,” explains Assistant Director and former Summerbridge teacher Greg Laski. “The students remember their Summerbridge teachers and the positive example they set for years to come.”

Sewickley Academy alumni like Cerminaro also benefit from the Summerbridge experience by reconnecting with their former classmates on the Summerbridge staff as well as getting to know current SA senior school students who serve as Apprentice Teachers.

“I would absolutely recommend Summerbridge to other SA alum, regardless of whether or not their future plans include teaching or education,” reflects Cerminaro. “I do not think there’s any replacement for fully committing yourself to a group of students and spending your time and energy reaching out to them.”

As for her own future plans, Cerminaro is, as always, seeking new challenges and opportunities for personal and professional growth. She is currently mapping out a new course for a second cross-country biking trip and hopes to teach English in France next fall. But regardless of how far her travels take her, Cerminaro will always keep her experiences at Summerbridge close to her heart.

“Teaching at Summerbridge made me reflect on the value of education and the privileged education that I received at SA,” notes Cerminaro. “I think teaching at Summerbridge is an invaluable experience for other alums from SA and plays a vital role in raising awareness that incredible things are happening at Summerbridge Pittsburgh.”

To learn more about Summerbridge Pittsburgh and how you can support its mission, visit http://summerbridge.sewickley.org, orcontact the Sewickley Academy Development Office. If you would like to make a contribution to support Deirdre's Habitat Bicycle Challenge please visit Habitat Bike Challenge