Take a moment to imagine your middle school self. What comes to mind first? Perhaps you think back on what it was like to adjust to a new school and academic pressures. Or you remember navigating difficult social situations with your friends, or the less than stylish haircut you had when you were 12. For many adults, middle school years are not a time looked back on fondly.
Now, imagine being a middle schooler in today’s world. An already isolating time of physical, mental and emotional growth is amplified by a global pandemic that’s keeping young students at home, away from their friends, teachers and support networks. Many young people are wondering about their place and future in a country that’s experiencing a national reckoning on racial, social and economic justice. Young people of color who live in marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by these challenges and uncertainty.
Jessica Greenawalt sees the impact these stressors have on youth and their families in her work every day. She is the new Executive Director of The Arthur Project, a New York City-based organization that provides youth mentoring and other resources for underserved middle school students and their families, and a grantee of The Pascale Sykes Foundation. We had the chance to connect with Jessica about The Arthur Project’s unique youth mentoring program, what these programs look like during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how adapting the Whole Family Approach has strengthened their services.